Gilda D’Incerti
Founder & CEO
PQE Group

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What If Our Strength Came From Chaos?

By Gilda D'Incerti | Thu, 09/01/2022 - 11:00

The prolongation of the COVID-19 pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and the advance of national popular parties almost every day, we seem to be exposed to outbreaks of financial instability, geopolitical instability, and health and medical catastrophes. Thus, for businesses, the concept of antifragility introduced in 2013 by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a Lebanese-American philosopher, mathematician and author of the book Antifragile – Things that Gain from Disorder appears prophetic.

The concept of antifragility is opposed to the idea of fragile. People who are antifragile are those who, in times of disruption and difficulty, not only resist or adapt to change as implicit in the concept of resilience but even improve and flourish in the state of uncertainty. This is a notion that I find fascinating but I imagine its operational boundaries are difficult to draw. As an entrepreneur, I have wondered what makes an organization antifragile. I have questioned whether my company, PQE Group, a quality consulting company for life sciences organizations, could call itself that. Looking at recent results, closing 2021 with 20-plus percent revenue over the previous year and doubling our staff (now more than 1,500 employees), I can confirm that my or rather our company is indeed an antifragile corporation, enlivened by people who can take advantage of complex and uncertain situations.

Not focusing entirely, however, only on the data confirming PQE Group outcomes, although they admittedly gratify me, the analysis must also look at the peculiarities that enable an organization to "thrive in disorder." Taking a cue from my own company's experience, I have come to a conclusion. Although it may sound somewhat trivial, I am convinced that the key to restarting is "action." More than ever, in times of uncertainty one must abandon one's organizational paradigms to embrace new flexible solutions. If "it's always been done like this" is a dangerous concept even in times of "ordinary business," today, to cast dark shadows on progress adds to the manic planning and capillary verification for every circumstance. To boost the recovery engine in times of crisis, one cannot linger by searching for the causes of the unpredictable but must surrender to causality in most cases, to entirely accept current situations. Control must be supplanted by the ability to engage and motivate employees, ensuring they feel they are critical actors in the company and crucial players in a grander scheme. As a practical example, during the spread of the pandemic and the resulting misinformation, we activated the "Infodemic" project, where my staff members experts in scientific subjects carried out analysis and research that led to articles to counter fake news. We continue to incentivize smart working, as I am certain that greater freedom and flexibility of work transform the "employee" into an entrepreneur. These are key methodologies to bring innovation to companies capable of combining their daily work activities with the application of new business ideas, renewing the organization from the bottom up.

I also believe it is necessary to convey the echo of antifragility in the organizational structure of companies. But where to start? I found an interesting cue offered by public law in Taleb's essay. From an economic perspective, Switzerland is the most solid country in the world and has been for several centuries. We could call it the most antifragile state on the planet, one that benefits from shocks and offers refuge and stability to exiles and capital from all over the world. As the author writes, “… but all these exiles do not realize the obvious: the most stable country in the world has no government. And it is not stable notwithstanding the absence of a government, it is stable precisely because it does not have one.”

As Taleb himself points out, however, it is not true that Switzerland does not have a government. Rather, we are not talking about a big central government, commonly identified with "The Government," but about a form of government based on the associationism and agreement of the different cantons, which we could almost call mini-sovereign states united in a confederation. An approach is definable as a button-up that avoids those top-down impositions that would frustrate spontaneous micro-adaptations.

Keeping well in mind what I learned from Taleb's book and wanting to consolidate PQE's presence as an international group by enriching it with new services, I pushed to use a still little-used M&A model: the Federation. This economic model differs from classic acquisition because it aims to exchange shares with different companies in local markets around the world. It also differs from merging because a new legal entity is not created in this case. On a practical level, this approach allows us to develop close alliances, scale personnel, and manage projects more quickly and efficiently. A decentralized economic system leaves room for variations in different markets and replaces the theoretical prosaic of some meetings with effective pragmatism. Those who operate in a local business know the dynamics, the individuals, and the customers. Currently, I can't yet comment on the results – the Federation launched in May 2022 with three companies along with PQE Group but, allow me my businesswoman's intuition that suggests that we are on the right track.

Photo by:   Gilda D’Incerti