Antifragile By Design:
How to Thrive in Chaos

April 2020 — Insights

In 2012, Nassim Talib coined the term “antifragile” to describe items and systems that benefit from volatility and get stronger when subjected to shock. This quality has been vital for the progress and growth of human civilization since ancient times.

Unexpected events like the COVID-19 pandemic have sent ripples through our complex, intricately interwoven economic system. For many businesses and industries, the negative outcomes have been immense.  At the same time, there are businesses and industries that have disproportionately gained from the recent chaos. If you were in the home delivery or e-commerce business you would have seen a significant increase in business.

As the commercial landscape rapidly evolves to accommodate this new normal, businesses have to reimagine and reposition so that they not only survive to meet this new demand, but become stronger in the face of volatility. We can’t rely on luck alone to place us on the right side of the new normal. In the long run, antifragility requires a fundamental shift in approach.

The (Digital) Road to Antifragility

The rise in connectivity has enabled us to continue life when, at the time of writing, over half of humanity is on lockdown. Everything from education to team briefings and dance lessons continue on platforms like Zoom, Hangouts, and Slack.

However, these platforms cannot replace the element of gut instinct and trust that drive human decision-making. The comfort of a handshake, the face-to-face meeting, the social interactions that have become an indispensable part of business. In this new, socially-distanced world, the organisations that win will be those who can successfully replicate trust in their engagement with customers.

Three of Black’s global partners offer three prescriptions on how to build business antifragility and thrive in this new normal.

1. Explore Future Scenarios

Dr. Petar Stojanov – Practice Lead, Future Strategy

“With proper anticipatory models, we would never have been caught as off-guard as we were with COVID,” claims Dr. Petar. “The lesson to learn from the past is to look beyond the present situation. We cannot predict the future, but we can easily predict the impact of future challenges. We have to build, test and launch new solutions while limiting our economic exposure.”

Dr. Petar advocates for a far more systematic approach towards exploring the future than most organisations and governments currently employ. Dr. Petar believes that in times of uncertainty, far more important than being right is surviving for long enough to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

“The reality is that to thrive, you must first survive.”

“While it goes against most academic business thinking, the reality is that to thrive, you must first survive. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong; it matters that you survive. The truth is that nobody is able to predict the future, this is why we MUST take this approach.”

Dr. Petar claims that the ability to peer into the future is not a talent, but a skillset.

“A robust, systematic exploration of the future is no longer an option for a business, and in the emerging digital-only economy we have today, our analysis suggests that an organisation’s ability to effectively communicate to a digital-only audience through compelling narratives and identities will play an increasingly important role in developing trust and credibility, and ultimately, competitive differentiation.” 

2. Evolve Your Identity

Anders Black Christiansen, Global Creative Director

As social distancing becomes a way of life, brands are evolving to explore new opportunities to connect with their audience.

“When you cannot speak on behalf of your brand, then your brand must speak on behalf of you. Identity is a search for continual relevance in a changing world.”

Anders offers a unique prescription for companies to stay relevant in these times, one that is rooted in nature, which is antifragile by design.

“In nature we trust things that we can easily recognize. Most corporate identities today are built for a time when we drove past large advertising billboards. Today, eyeballs are focused on small screens, quickly swiping through content. Brands need to build instant trust, and we do that by building iconic brands that are immediately recognisable.”

“In nature we trust things that we can easily recognize.”

Black recently completed the second major rebranding effort for Monjasa, a global oil and shipping company.

“From the very first identity in 2003 to two major rebrands in 2012 and 2020, we have been their creative partners. Over the years, the company has continuously adjusted and adapted to a new world and new market conditions. With it, the company’s brand and identity have evolved to remain relevant. The latest rebrand was in line with Monjasa entering a new era of transparency and digital transformation.”

See Case: Monjasa Rebranding


3. Engage With Customers

Cheyenne Kamran – Partner, Strategy and Digital

As social distancing becomes a way of life, brands are evolving to explore new opportunities to connect with their audience.

“Organizations with conventional marketing and sales funnels have to make a serious commitment to go digital. Start with auditing your existing digital presence, marketing assets, and take time to revamp initiatives and processes to set your organization up for future success.”

With the human touch points left out of the equation, digital touch points are key to engaging with customers. “The data speaks for itself,” says Cheyenne. In March 2020, global social media usage increased 61% (Kantar). Facebook (owner of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Portal) reported that total messaging has increased by 50 percent and video calling has doubled in some markets. And the video conferencing platform of choice, Zoom, has gone from 10 million users a day in December to 200 million during the pandemic.

“To engage with customers, many of whom are at home, you have to revisit and revamp your websites and social media presence. Are the website design and copy elements compelling and relevant? Are the user interface elements seamless and effective? What about the front page and feed of your social media platforms?”

“Develop an editorial calendar for the next 45 days, and supercharge it with digital campaigns that capture the imagination.”

“Then move on to developing an editorial calendar for the next 45 days, and supercharge it with digital campaigns that capture the imagination and deliver genuine value to your target audiences. For every industry and identity, this means something different – from inspirational stories to entertaining short-form videos and practical visual guides for thriving at home. Regardless of your industry, you want to be with them and be there for them as we go through these challenging times.”