We are antifragile because #WeAreLearners

Avanscoperta agreed to sponsor my participation to the workshop held on 5-9 Feb by Nassim N. Taleb on risk modeling in NYC. This is the story of where this decision came up from, since the day Alberto Brandolini and I first met.

When Zio Brando and I met

Back in 2010 I met Zio Brando for the first time. We were in Antwerp, Belgium, attending an event about lean thinking and kanban systems. There was no clue yet about any #WeAreLearners hashtag, we both knew just a few of the speakers, we both were there to learn about a subject we had already cared about for a few years: make things right and sort out that big mess we had seen haunting software development for years. We didn’t even know exactly what we would have found during those few days listening to other people. It ended up being a very nice event and we came back to Italy with a few new cards to play, Al Shalloway’s ‘The Dot Game’ and the brand new relationship between me and Alberto, just to name a few.

Back then I met Alberto in a so-called learning space, a place meant to learn intensively and extensively together with a community of fellow lean practitioners. Since then, I’ve been able to rely on new tools that proved to be immensely valuable for my workshops and, even better, that event kicked off the collaboration with one of the most like-minded people I have ever met, ever. That unpredictable bump in Belgium, paired with the upfront wise choice to attend that event, proved to be exponentially valuable in the following years,  bringing to the delivery of my first Avanscoperta workshop on Extreme Contracts in 2015.

When we met the Black Swan

As much as with a few other avid book readers, I share a soft spot for a certain kind of books with Zio Brando. Among the billions of books we have in common on our shelves, especially one is relevant here: The Black Swan by Nassim N. Taleb. This book dropped like a bomb in our discussions a few years ago, introducing and clearing the fog on a few concepts the whole agile community had been already discussing a lot: predictability of social systems and the impact of very unlikely events on our lives. From a developer’s or any other knowledge worker’s point of view, this subject is a key issue when trying to manage projects and teams the traditional way.

From that point on we accepted that we know much less about our future than our prediction models will ever allow us to know. From that point on we became aware that software development industry — and much of the so-called knowledge work — is not conceived in a suitable way to cope with unpredictable events. It is fragile.

How fragile we are

What is fragility to a knowledge worker? What makes knowledge work fragile as a social system? Long story short: a stop to continuous and relentless learning. While knowledge workers who keep on learning are constantly re-shaping their skills — soft skills included — by enabling themselves to follow new opportunities, ossified people who live the delusion that stopping to learn may be a viable option make their job and lives more fragile, hindering their chances to pivot, that means to re-orient their aim according to acquired information.

In a turbulent society, being ready and willing to pivot is a key attitude.

Life is a continuous pivoting. — Fabio Lalli

Why we’re going to meet Taleb

After having smashed our conversations once, Taleb did it again with Antifragile. A system which benefits from negative stress is antifragile, as opposed to a robust system which just manages to stay the same. The key to antifragility are options and optionality: as long as I have more than one option to pursue, I am not bounded to my plan A and I can enhance my chances to prosper.

To developers and knowledge workers, then, learning is not just a robustness enabler but it may foster antifragility opening unexpected opportunities up whereas a non-learning person could only see a problem. On the wake of some unpredictable series of events, something you learned for the sake of it could become very valuable, unlocking unexpected paths of prosperity. In 2003, when I listened to Gabriele Lana talking about agile software development at a small conference, I had no clue that the rest of my life would have revolved around agile methods for as long as 18 years (jeeeeez!). Everything I have worked upon in this years was triggered by that small single event combined with the willingness to expose myself to that learning. If options are the currency of antifragility, learning is the mint of our chances to pivot and stay aloft and prosper.

As I have been telling here and there for a while, we are not and shouldn’t be alone building our antifragility, because we learn best when we can share our learning. Learning spaces keep on being the answer and Avanscoperta is the perfect learning space for developers, designers and any professional involved in the digital ecosystem.

It is then no mystery the reason why Avanscoperta decided to sponsor my participation to Taleb’s Real Word Risk Institute one-week full immersion workshop on risk modeling and taking: because we decided to swim upstream up to the source of concepts we love and learn from the man who disrupted our attitude towards uncertainty. I am here now in New York City on behalf of a whole community of learners, made of all the Avanscoperta trainers and all the people who attend our workshops.

For making this happen, all that happened so far and everything that will unexpectedly happen in our shared future, I thank Zio Brando and Avanscoperta from the bottom of my heart.

See you tomorrow for the first report from the Big Apple!

(Photo by justine de gennes on Unsplash)

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