Tropophilia: Thriving On Uncertainty Beyond Resilience & AntiFragility!
In order to be pro-actively adaptive, that is, having the capability to maintain a Continuous Learning Mood (CLM) to translate that learning into immediate actions, and to anticipate and create change as the ultimate competitive advantage, organizations must be fully based on Open Systems Design Principles and deploy Tropophilia, i.e., the ability to thrive on uncertainty and go beyond resilience or antifragility!
The “Experts” Say: “Culture drives business performance when it is aligned with strategy and the business environment.” Yes, everybody knows ‘Culture Eats Strategy For Breakfast’!
These “Experts” also say “Culture can be hard to understand and talk about, much less manage, because it feels elusive — so much of culture is anchored in unspoken behaviors, mindsets and social patterns.”
What these “Experts” don’t seem to understand is that culture is an emergent property of structure.
Most leaders don’t understand that their organizational culture is driven by its Structure. In other words, structure eats culture for lunch!
The world is moving fast and deeper into Black Swan Domain, fat tails, and punctuated equilibria, also known as singularities. These situations call for tropophilic organizational structures, i.e., structures that thrive on entropy, for these structures embody the essential components of the future enterprise in the face of black swan events and uncertainty.
In the words of Nicholas Taleb
“… a Black Swan is an event with the following three attributes:
First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility.
Second, it carries an extreme ‘impact’.
Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it retrospectively predictable.”
Summarizing Taleb’s Black Swan attributes, these are rare, extremely impactful, and retrospectively predictable events. These events are the result, of collective and individual subjectivity and narrow-mindedness e.g, Brexit, Trump, etc..
The ‘beauty’ of Black Swan events is not only that they explain almost everything in the world, from the successful/failed ideas and the dynamics of history, to elements of our own personal lives but, even more importantly, that these events will clearly determine the future of humanity as it moves, ever faster, towards Taleb’s lower-right quadrant, i.e., Black Swan domain.
How To Make The Most Of Black Swan Events?
The obvious answer is to become tropophilic by following Open Systems Design Principles in order to go beyond resilience and anti-fragility!
First, we need to define fragile as something that not only is easily damaged or broken but, more importantly, that does not like change or uncertainty, and cannot tolerate complexity or disorder (i.e., entropy).
The opposite, however, is not robust or resilient. Nicholas Taleb could not find a proper antonym so he settled for “antifragile.” We were not very happy with antifragile because it did not convey fully a path beyond the opposite of fragile and beyond beyond antifragility. Thus, we began our research and came up with heterotic, from heterosis or hybrid vigor, it was a bit better than antifragile but still constrained to the reproduction of biological organisms. Then, we thought of Betaphilic, which has to to do with beta decay in nuclear physics, and the beta coefficient with volatility in finance, but still did not convey 100% the a meaning beyond antifragility.
Finally, it dawned on us and came up with Tropophilia from Entropy (German En: within, and Greek Tropo: change, transformation, as in the second law of thermodynamics; and Latin Philia love for).
Tropophilia, the love for change, goes beyond antifragility and resilience because it goes hand in hand with the Entropy law and the Free-energy Principle, which, like gravity are unidirectional i.e., go from a state of order to one of disorder and minimize the prediction error, respectively.
Fragility loves calmness and predictability for it cannot absorb any shock or disorder.
Robustness can absorb shocks and some changes but only to a certain point and does benefit from them.
Resilience is one step ahead of robustness because, even though it breaks, it bounces back to its previous. However, it remains reactive and therefore it is doomed too.
Antifragility is ahead of robustness and resilience for it does not break, it is not affected by shocks or changes. However, it does not benefit from them either.
Tropophila goes beyond antifragility because it feeds on shocks and change while minimizing free energy. Tropophilia thrives on disruption, chaos, uncertainty, and Entropy!
In a world that is moving within Black Swan Domains, characterized by increasing uncertainty, disruptions, unpredictability, and powerful impacts, only tropophilic organizations with ideal-seeking individuals will be able to thrive.
Designing For Tropophilia: Building Beautifully Tropophilic Organisations!
When a sudden random event hits you, it makes you stronger if it does not kill you, i.e., it helps you become tropophilic. In other words, it makes you more than antifragile. It makes you able to benefit from it and deal efficiently with chaos and uncertainty and, therefore, benefit from the impact of future improbables.
From biology, we know that heterosis (i.e., hybrid vigor or outbreeding enhancement of the offspring) comes about when the best traits of the parents are passed onto the offspring, as opposed to inbreeding.
A simple example of proactive heterosis or saliency is human vaccination. By taking a small hit now, through a vaccine, one can better deal with a major hit in the future. By proactively building one’s immune system one can, eventually, attain tropophilia.
Tropophilia incorporates proactiveness and removes asymmetries and monocultures. It builds symmetries and heterosis. Ensures that the minority (with skin in the game) rules the game!
Tropophilia is built by the continuous directive correlation between the system and its environment.
Thus, Tropophila further develops error-reducing-benefit-maximizing organizational structures where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Most HR efforts, if not all, are reactive practices based on signs and symptoms, such as employee disengagement, lack of empowerment, poor leadership, and conflicting assessments. Hence, they focus primarily on risks and vulnerabilities and not on strengths or capacities, let alone on tropophilia!
Low engagement and accountability (no skin in the game) continue to cost the global economy over $1 trillion annually and the 2017 Elderman Trust Barometer reveals a sharp decline in engagement and accountability across all sectors of business, private and public, especially with millennials who abhor restrictive organizations without a higher purpose.
Employers continue to be the victims of “expert” advice and struggle to determine what constitutes “best practices.” Best practices serve little purpose, if any, in Black Swan Domain.
Research have shown that six human requirements must be optimally satisfied before people can be expected to intrinsically develop responsibility for and commitment to their tasks. These are the building blocks for designing tropophilic organizations and are at the heart of Participative Design, Employee Engagement, and a Culture of Trust, Transparency, and Integrity.
The first three requirements refer to the content of any job and are experienced differently from person to person. These first three criteria tend to be either too little (at lower levels) or too much (top management levels):
- Adequate responsibility and decision-making. The sense that the responsibility for the work done is with the one doing it and not above.
- Opportunity to learn continuously. Such learning is only possible when people are able to set goals that are reasonably challenging to them and get adequate feedback to learn and make corrections.
- Variety. People need adequate variety based on individual capabilities to avoid either boredom or fatigue.
The second three requirements relate to the social culture of the workplace and can never be too much:
- Mutual support and respect. Conditions that support common good over individual interest, getting help and respect from their coworkers; that don’t pit one against another.
- A sense that one’s own work meaningfully contributes to social welfare. This includes both the quality and the worth to society of the product/service, as well as the participant’s knowledge and understanding of the end use or purpose of the product or service.
- A desirable future. Put simply, a career path which will continue to allow for personal growth and increase in knowledge and skills.
You can waste valuable resources with “fun team-building games” that do nothing to change the organizational structure, or you can use those resources to change your organizational structure and watch your work culture flourish.
Team building is not about outdoor training but about organizational design and restructuring.
By restructuring the workplace based on Open Systems Design Principles, the six psychological criteria are met by default, thus achieving a positive directive correlation between the system effectivities and its environmental affordances, transforming rhetoric on responsibility into positive action.
The result is a culture of trust, transparency, and integrity. Thus, becoming a Tropophilic organization!
If you get caught unprepared in a Black Swan Domain it will be devastating. The only way to prepare your company is by making it Tropophilic, thus ensuring that every employee becomes an ideal-seeking individuals with a Day-1-Always attitude!
Living organisms can defy the misleading gloss on the second law of thermodynamics (Entropy), “They take disorganized bits and pieces of matter, and put them together in fiendishly complex and refined ways”. This is Tropophilia in action!
To the Health of Your Tropophilic Organisation!
JC Wandemberg Ph.D.
President & Founder
About the author: Dr. Wandemberg is an international consultant, professor, and analyst of economic, environmental, social, managerial, marketing, and political issues. For the past 30 years Dr. Wandemberg has collaborated with corporations, communities, and organizations to integrate sustainability through self-transformation processes and Open Systems Design Principles, thus, catalyzing a Culture of Trust, Transparency, and Integrity.