Looking at the HR Function in a different way – Nicole Le Maire

Looking at the HR Function in a different way – Nicole Le Maire

Guest Blogger: Nicole Dominique Le Maire, NewtoHR


Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s extensive psychological treatise Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder, offers humans, not least HR personnel, the opportunity to look at life from a different perspective, one of embracing and thriving in uncertainty and randomness. We are so used to coming into the office at a set time, on set days, doing set tasks to attain measurable objectives that we can start to become irritated when things go wrong – the email system going down; a fire drill we had forgotten about; spilling coffee on our paperwork, etc.

According to Taleb, we need to learn – or relearn – how to adapt creatively to random events. He calls this quality ‘antifragility’.

What is ‘antifragility’?

Taleb created the word ‘antifragile’ after realising that there was no word for the opposite of fragile. Fragile things get weaker when exposed to shock, resistant things stay the same when shocked (compare say glass with toughened glass) but there are few physical things that actually get stronger when shocked. Those things that do would be ‘antifragile’, and Taleb claims the entire evolution of biological and social systems – from bacteria and human beings to financial and technological systems – all thrived because of their antifragility.

If you have worked in HR for any length of time you will know all about resistance masquerading as antifragility. It’s those employees or colleagues who cope with everything that has been thrown at them, day after day, year after year until, finally, they snap.

‘Black Swans’ and the illusion of predictability

All experienced HR professionals will also know what ‘black swans’ are, even if we’ve never named them such. They are those massive stressors – those mergers and acquisitions; office closures and company reorganisations – that  seem to come out of the blue and throw the whole corporate animal into chaos and confusion. Taleb claims that modern humans have got it wrong by believing these events to be predictable just because we can explain how they happened in retrospect.

The truly antifragile among us thrive under such stressors, taking the opportunity to change the way the company as a whole operates. In the same way as the strong (antifragile) survive environmental challenges to pass on their genes to future members of the species, antifragile organisations (employing enough antifragile directors and employees) ride the wave of economic and strategic uncertainty to outgrow the competition.  But why do such changes often lead to losses instead?

Risk-taking and top-down control

Taleb sees modern civilisation as having led to the creation of a type of ‘anti-hero’ that takes all of the benefits of speculation without shouldering any of the risk. This was illustrated most clearly in the recent economic crisis, where a lack of accountability in the area of financial speculation was partly to blame for that massive financial black swan that is still being felt across the world.

Taleb blames a heavy-handed top-down approach that seeks to impose pseudo-order over systems that are inherently subject to chaos, rather than allowing each of us to adapt to random events in our own unique ways. Ironically, according to Taleb, we have now used technology to create such complex systems of control that the systems themselves are creating larger and more unpredictable black swans.

Loving the wind

Taleb suggests that we all need to learn to love the wind that is uncertainty and randomness. By becoming aware of random events and treating them as an agent of positive change, rather than a hindrance to our pursuit of the status quo, we can spot opportunities for real improvement and growth.


Nicole Dominique Le Maire has gained a reputation as a highly valued leader within the international Human Resources Industry. As a multi-talented woman entrepreneur and a global people connector, she is also the co-author of two books. Nicole is an expert in leading people-based activity from a strategic and operational perspective, with a gift for developing talent.

New To HR puts the fun back into the people function. New To HR was founded in 2013, supporting individuals and organisations anywhere in the world.

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I am a consultant specializing in the selection of HR & payroll software for a range of clients in many sectors in various countries, primarily UK, Europe and the USA. I came into HR for a background in Finance, and this analytical training has stood me in good stead. A few years after, I was asked to computerize the payroll, which was manual at the time, which, having successfully been accomplished, the next step was to find an HR system for the personnel records. The rest is history, as ever since then people have asked me to do things because I “knew about that stuff” and the whole arena of HR & payroll systems was an area of considerable trepidation for HR & payroll professionals, and Information Technology had very much occupied that space by default at the time. My philosophy has always been to act as an enabler with clients, lighting the way for them to arrive at the most suitable conclusions; that way, the client has ownership, and the knowledge stays with them rather than passing through the door after the project. After co-founding the niche HRmeansbusiness consultancy in 2000, I went on to build and launch the HRcomparison website (for comparison of HR, Payroll and Time & Attendance software), that was the first of its kind in the UK and currently features over 60 vendors. Currently I am working on a series of webinars and seminars for 2015 on HRIS topics and a book is already under way. Sharing Our Expertise and Making Worldwide Connections

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