With globalisation, technological advancement and innovation progressing at exponential rates, our world has become more volatile. These societal forces are forcing individuals assume more leadership in shaping their own careers for sustainable personal satisfaction and success. In addition, longer human life expectancies are changing the way people view their careers. While working in a single company for one’s entire working lifespan may have been the norm in the past, people now expect to make career shifts as their interests and passions change.
How should individuals maximise their rewards and minimise their risks as they make career switches in a world that is unpredictable and ever-changing? Professor Horacio Falcao (INSEAD), who spoke at The HEAD Foundation on 17 May, proposed the benefits of an antifragile career strategy. Drawing from Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s black swan theory, Prof. Falcao explained that an antifragile career strategy is one where the individual invests a lot in something safe and invests a little in something risky. This type of career strategy is one that allows the individual to make a lot of small mistakes, and to grow and learn from these mistakes. In fact, antifragile careers can greatly benefit from unexpected events (“black swan” events).
Prof. Falcao illustrated his theory of an antifragile career strategy with a story about a friend who was a VP of HR at a large multi-national company. After working in that position for many years, his friend was starting to get bored with his work and had a growing passion for being an executive coach. This friend seriously considered quitting his prestigious and well-paying job as VP of HR, and starting an executive coaching business. However, Prof. Falcao warned that this extreme career switch was unwise as it was far too risky. Instead, he recommended an antifragile approach to his friend, which was to keep his current job as a safety net, but to start dabbling in executive coaching with a small number of clients in his free time. This would allow his friend to balance the safety and security of his corporate job, with the excitement of his executive coaching endeavours.
While there are many potential benefits of pursuing an antifragile career strategy, it is not for everyone, explained Prof. Falcao. Some people may not be able to pursue an antifragile career strategy if their current organisation is too rigid, or if their new role or opportunity is too demanding. For these individuals, it may make more sense to just focus on their existing role, or to make a full switch to their new role. An antifragile career strategy also sometimes comes at the cost of work-life balance as juggling two roles takes up one’s time, focus and commitment.