Bring more shocks and surprises to our antifragile business

What’s in store for 2013? More data, for sure. Accountable social media, certainly. Programmatic efficiency-biased automated schedules, of course. A new single from Psy, here’s hoping. But among all the speculation, here’s a cast-iron, rock-solid, guaranteed prediction: that we have no idea what the biggest surprise, change or shock to the system will be in 2013.

How do we and our clients grow when what we know for certain is how little we can be certain of? Well, perhaps the world doesn’t need another buzzword, but "antifragile" may have something to it.

It’s the title of The Black Swan author Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s new book. Its hypothesis? That there are certain types of systems and organisations that, rather than becoming damaged by shock and unpredicted change, are actually improved by them; they thrive from disruption.

It starts by asking a superficially simple question: what’s the opposite of fragile? You may say "strong", but Taleb takes a different point of view. You take a cup and drop it and it breaks – it’s fragile; the mighty Brooklyn Bridge may be able to endure the most extreme weather, it’s robust and strong, but what it doesn’t do is become a better bridge because of the experience – it’s not "antifragile".

This got me thinking: how antifragile are we as an industry? How good are we at adapting? We’re in sector that’s increasingly complex and Taleb would suggest that the more complicated the system, the more likely it is to experience unpredictable change.

Overall, I’d say the answer is pretty good. Few businesses have experienced the level of change that most agencies have undergone over the past five years and, as an industry, I would suggest that we are one of the most antifragile in the world. We have an entrepreneurial drive that thrives on change (often the more dramatic, the better) and an unremitting predisposition towards optimism. Given the accelerating rate of change in the media environment, this ability to adapt, and adapt at speed, is and will be more important than the ability to predict.

We’re building antifragile businesses and creating antifragile campaigns – work that gets better the more it’s messed with. While Old Spice Man set a standard, there are plenty of campaigns that are reacting to the ebb, the flow and 180-degree shifts in public opinion, using the seismic shifts to gain the initiative.

All good stuff, and while we’ve grown businesses that can benefit from the new, let’s not lose sight of the fundamentals: creating work that is as rooted in the brands it serves as much as it is in the platforms it uses.

2013: bring us your epic surprises and brilliant shocks. They keep us vital, they drive change, they make us better.

Steve Hatch is the chief executive at MEC

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