Think like an Entrepreneur: Be AntiFragile No Matter Where You Work

So many things can change quickly in the 21st century work world that it helps us to polish our natural abilities toward adaptive change. How can you FRAME an approach to entrepreneurial change that helps you adapt to a business climate that is always changing?

Failure - Try again

The five (5) FRAME concepts referenced in the SlideShare presentation below are:

1. Fail Small, Learn Big

2. Reinvent  Continuously,  Use an Internal  & External Mindset

3. Antifragile:  Embracing Randomness and “VUCA”    

4. Multi-Networked

5. Entrepreneurs Create The Future

Edison, Young

The fifth may be the last and is the most important in the Covid era. Think like an Entrepreneur. The following material illustrates these five points:

Adaptation, with some encouragement from someone who believes in you, works wonders.  Not unlike Thomas Edison, featured in the Slideshare below, who endured reportedly 1,000 to 10,000 failures in developing the lightbulb, among his prolific list of inventions.  

“My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”

~ Thomas Edison

A lesser known failure that spurred him on, was his experience with school in his early years: Teachers told Edison he was “too stupid to learn anything.”  Reverend Engle, one of his teachers called him “addled.” His three months of official schooling soon ended. Edison recalled later, “My mother was the making of me. She was so true, so sure of me; and I felt I had something to live for, someone I must not disappoint.”  His mother taught him at home.

Work was no better, as he was fired from his first two jobs for not being productive enough.

Edison was granted 1,093 patents for inventions that ranged from the lightbulb, typewriter, electric pen, phonograph, motion picture camera and alkaline storage battery—to the talking doll and a concrete house that could be built in one day from a cast-iron mold.1

Don't rob of struggle

In a career workshop session I held at the University of Michigan, we covered how failure and struggle has a purpose, like that of the butterfly emerging from the cocoon.  The struggle to emerge, during a very vulnerable period in its life, is also essential as it pushes fluid out of its body and into its new wings. Without this struggle, the butterfly would not fly and perhaps would not survive the day. 

Deb, Entre-Slam

I also shared some of my own failure to success stories, including getting on the speaking circuit, helped by local entrepreneurial events like Entre-Slam, where I found myself rapping about failure, and winning.

What has been your successful learning from what originally seemed to be a failure?  How was it helpful to you?

Challenge provides a new opportunity
Challenge provides a new opportunity, discussion group story about group “hive-mind” special needs students helping each other.

One story shared in this career workshop involved a successful sport coach who worked with athletes.  She was asked to coach a group of young students who were struggling in school and had special needs that caused them to have extra hurdles to jump through in life.  

She shared that it was challenging.  It was very different than anything she had done before, working with athletes.  It turned out to also be very rewarding as the youngsters pulled together as a team to help each other be successful in ways she had not imagined.

Anti-fragile quote

In the discussion, I also mentioned the term “Antifragile”  and the work of Nicholas Nassim Taleb describing efforts to move beyond resilience.  A sponge springs back into shape.  It is resilient. Antifragile people and organization cultures go beyond resilience, are constantly adapting, learning from failure, and are made better through stress, like the necessary struggle of the butterfly or the amazing 130 million year history and adaptation of the ant. The ant is highly adaptive and symbolic of living organisms that deal well with VUCA, the Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous nature of 21st century environments.  (Learn about VUCA here, including military origins.)

The Bear agreed.  “The ants are bad,” he said.

…”The ants?”

…”Do not be fooled,” said Osman.  “They look very small, so small you don’t think of them at all.  Weeks pass.  Then years.  The one day you wake up, and your home has fallen down.”

Tahir Shah, In Arabian Nights: A Caravan of Moroccan Dreams 

Living organisms adapt to change.  The lowly yet powerful ant can help us better understand how our institutions are set up to be fragile in their more rigid structures, and how nature, and we, have and can adapt.  The financial meltdown, predicted by Mr. Taleb, was of such a fragility.

Anti-Fragile Sponge Ants

Ants emerged from wasp-like ancestors over 130 million years ago. Today ants have become the most successful terrestrial macro-scale species this planet has ever seen. Often considered a super-organism on account of their hive-mind composition, their evolutionary success has been attributed to their highly coordinated social organization, an ability to modify habitats, exploit resources, and defend themselves.

Nearly 12,500 species have been identified, but it’s thought that as many as 22,000 species may actually exist. Ants have also colonized virtually every landmass on Earth, and may comprise anywhere from 15 to 25% of the total terrestrial animal biomass. Put another way, there are more ants on this planet by weight than all humans combined

From Deb's ScoopIt newsletters
From Deb’s ScoopIt newsletters

The fifth concept about entrepreneurs creating the future is one of the most important.  Professor Saras D. Sarasvathy talks about the importance of taking action, pushing through early failure, and eventually being successful due to perseverance and effectuation, a set of principles that she teaches that do not begin with a specific goal. Indeed, goals sometimes trap us or limit us greatly. Instead, effectuation uses the resources at hand and allows goals to emerge over time from the varied  imagination and diverse aspirations of an entrepreneurial founder and the people with whom they interact.3

In a time like this, when things drastically change, everyone has to be an entrepreneur.

…We can run for office…We can change institutions.

COVID-19 happened to us. Ask yourself, ‘What do I want to happen next? What can I do now that I couldn’t do before the pandemic?’”

Darden Professor Saras Sarasvathy, an authority on high-performance entrepreneurship

Author: Deb Nystrom is an organization development consultant with a specialties in change & transition, facilitation, leadership development, leadership coaching and process facilitation. She can be reached at: or contact her here.


This post was updated in February 2022 with Covid era references. The original presentation was based on Deb’s presentation at the  American Business Women’s Association, the Maia chapter held at the Ross Business School Executive Residence in Ann Arbor, June 21st, 2014.


1- When Thomas Edison died in 1931, he left 3500 notebooks which are preserved today in the temperature-controlled vaults of the West Orange Laboratory Archives at the Edison National Historic Site in New Jersey.

2 – Ants, Adaptation, Antifragile organisms

Exchange of resources, affinity diagrams, Pictured:  Gwendolyn
Exchange of resources, affinity diagrams, Pictured: Gwendolyn

3 – More about Associate Professor Saras D. Sarasvathy from her university biography:  She is a member of the Strategy, Entrepreneurship and Ethics area and teaches courses in entrepreneurship and ethics in Darden’s MBA program.  In addition, she teaches in doctoral programs not only at Darden, but also in Denmark, India, Croatia and South Africa. In 2007, Sarasvathy was named one of the top 18 entrepreneurship professors by Fortune Small Business magazine.

Effectuation is widely acclaimed as a rigorous framework for understanding the creation and growth of new organizations and markets.  The research program based on effectuation involves over a dozen scholars from around the world whose published and working papers can be found at

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons license.

PS: Interesting note: I asked those attending a career presentation in 2014, “How many of you have been in your same career for more than ten years or so?”  Only two raised their hands.  Their professions were cosmetology and nursing.  Though there have been many updates in those fields, it is interesting that looking good, and preserving health and/or recovering from illness, stands the test of time.

Published by dnrevel

Change & transition, Leadership team & organization development. Executive Leadership team coach. My LinkedIn profile:

2 thoughts on “Think like an Entrepreneur: Be AntiFragile No Matter Where You Work

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: