‘Hello, Bob? I seem to be having a problem. The shower won’t go cold.
Bob laughs: ‘It doesn’t get warm, you mean?!’
‘No, I really mean not cold.’
Bob, the landlord of our cottage in Wiltshire, can’t think of how to reply for a bit.
For about three years now, I’ve started my days with a cold shower. And now suddenly I can’t do this anymore. But for every problem there is a solution, so I now fill the bathtub with cold water every morning (which is quite a bit harder than a cold shower by the way).
‘Why on earth?’, Bob finally asks.
A question I often get :-).
It all started when I found myself turning the heating higher and higher.
It made me think: how come I can withstand the cold worse nowadays? Apparently, my body slowly started unlearning how to keep itself warm.
In the same bit of time I was studying the concept of ‘Antifragility’.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains in his book with the same title that the opposite of fragility isn’t robustness, but anti-fragility.
Right, that calls for some explanation.
Imagine dropping a glass. It can brake (fragile). Equally, it can be a more sturdy glass that will stay in one piece (robust). But an antifragile glass is different from both: it would become stronger from the fall.
Antifragility is the ability to grow stronger under ‘stress’: pressure, breaking, failure, diversity etcetera.
- Your immune system builds up thanks to germs, bacteria and the like. Just like bones need pressure to get and stay strong as well.
- The collective of local restaurants gets stronger by the learning experiences of the single restaurants that don’t survive.
- To train your muscles or stamina, you need to challenge them. Stretch them beyond your comfort zone (and recuperate!!).
- You can lose built-up strength in no-time as well. Being bedridden for a week, you will lose up to 70% of your muscular strength.
- ‘Lean startups’ even actively make sure to ‘fail faster’: to learn from failure as soon as possible: finding out what doesn’t work to learn how to move forward in a better way.
And many more like these. Have a look at Taleb’s book if you want to see more.
To become antifragile, the system needs to be exposed to plenty of stressors. Only then can it learn and improve.
This learning mechanism I avoided by upping the thermostat every time.
I did not expose my body to the necessary ‘stressors’ to keep training the internal thermostat. I succumbed to the seductive comfort of the heating. A bit warmer every time.
Programming the thermostat a bit higher functioned as a protection against the increasing vulnerability of my internal warmth regulator. Thereby not giving my body the chance to learn from the normal ‘feedback’ of its surroundings: ‘Yo, it’s cold, I need to do something about this!’: the normal learning mechanism.
We see this inclination in change processes we facilitate as well: going for comfort and avoiding the tricky, disruptive feedback:
- in not addressing conflicts below the surface;
- in people avoiding each other because collaboration is complicated;
- trying something new once and stopping it immediately when it’s not a resounding success straight away stating: ‘I have tried, and it didn’t work’
- in people who decide it is good enough as it is and don’t want to learn anymore
- in a senior leadership team that decides giving each other feedback isn’t necessary: ‘we’re all professionals, after all’.
These are all little ‘thermostats’
Avoiding discomfort takes away the possibility of the system to learn and get stronger thanks to the uncomfortable ‘feedback’.
Change, at least change coming from within, is blocked by this.
When no new information makes its way into the system, no reason becomes apparent to learn from it and adjust to it. When everyting that ‘is there’, is covered, all is apparently fine as it is. So, let’s move on the way we always have!
Since most people appreciate this kind of comfort a lot, not many of us actively look for the necessary stretch to become more antifragile. Who decides: ‘Let’s make things nice and tricky for myself?’
Having a cold shower to train your body to deal better with the cold.
A beautiful example of someone who did do that, is Jia Jiang. He decided to no longer avoid his fear of rejection, but train himself to deal with it instead. He tells how he did this in a very funny and endearing way in his TED talk:
Confronting things head on, experimenting with new behaviour and actively seeking feedback, is all part of Change 3.0.
Taking ownership by facing the consequences of your own actions, both the positive and negative. It’s all about working with what is (one of the seven principles of Change 3.0), and making sure everything that is of influence is addressed. Above the surface.
Because only then you can do something with it.
It even goes further.
With our approach to change we do more than just helping you realise your desired outcomes.
Despite us always saying we only care about that, your desired outcomes. Which we try and stay off as much as we can. ‘It is not about what we want’, we tell our customers. Maybe we even told you …
Sorry, it turns out we lied.
With Change 3.0 we do have an agenda of our own as well.
What we want to have happen, is for organisations to become more ‘antifragile’ (again).
That is our desired outcome. And if we have to, we will make you and your colleagues have your version of a cold shower, or even a cold bath if the shower doesn’t go cold enough.
To come out again with a smile on your face. Well, after a few times maybe.