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Anti-fragile Circular Economy?

"Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is an interesting book.

The reviews on Goodreads swerve from glowing 5 star to damming 1 star with little in between [1]. My opinion does the same, depending on the day!

Despite, or perhaps because of, that there is a really important idea in the book  - and Taleb gives us a fun label for it too: "antifragility".

One of the promises of a Circular Economy is that it could offer one way to help make supply chains less fragile. Usually this comes with the challenge of being less 'efficient'. Although, how we are measuring efficiency - or crucially, what the efficiency is not measured against - then becomes the key question.

Anyway, one way that a Circular Economy could help with economic and supply fragility is 'localisation'. Or, more accurately, local, independent parts to a circular network.

That raises some really interesting questions for me:

  • Taleb's thesis requires individual parts of the system to fail under stress. That results in the network as a whole becoming stronger. But it is an uncomfortable thought when the failing part is someone's business.
  • Local networks imply smaller organisations. This is one of the key reasons for the 'efficiency' issue. So, what are the alternatives to tackle that, very real, challenge?

These question lead me to the following two contrasting analogies:

  1. VC funding: where a large pot of money is used to fund many new businesses. These businesses are then supported and encouraged (or forced) to aggressively try and grow quickly. From the VC's point of view the best outcome is for a tiny percent of the businesses to become massive. And that requires the majority of them to fail.
  2. Wood wide web: microbial and fungal networks connect old growth forest trees [2]. It is advantageous for trees to share resources (think micro climates, breeding and handling animal or insect attack). So that is what they do across these hidden networks. Even when they also compete for some resources (like sunlight). (Aside: This is a totally amazing and mindblowingly fascinating topic, so be warned that it will eat up a huge amount of your time if you explore further.)

In both of these cases the system as a whole as many of the elements of antifragility. Guess which one I would choose.

Ah yes, that second analogy needs a more real world example (in case I get accused of being naive). So, I'll explore that in the next #circularwandering post



About the author

Barry O'Kane

Barry is the founder of HappyPorch. With 20 years in the web development industry as a programmer and agency owner, he has a preternatural ability to decipher the systems and processes code that holds many teams back from achieving their goals. Partners say Barry gets to the root of issues quickly and makes it downright easy to deliver good work.    

While he's unbelievably grounded, it's not uncommon to find him sailing through the trees as he paraglides his way round the world.