The future needs antifragile organizations

March 1, 2022
Isabelle Paradis, President and Founder, HOT TELECOM

There is no doubt about it, society as a whole is going through one of its most intense phases of transformation and the telecom industry is at the core of this revolution, as it has become an intrinsic part of everything that we do and everything that we touch. This comes with great responsibility, considering that the successful evolution of the telecom world will have a direct impact on our society’s future.

The 360° societal impact of the telecom evolution

If we take a step back, we see that different telecom evolutionary waves have affected all of us as human beings, the society we live in and the businesses that support it.

I started in the industry almost 30 years ago and at that time, it was going through two significant evolutionary waves: the market’s deregulation and the advent of mobile. These did not only bring a whole suite of new players, technologies and products to our industry, but also changed the way we communicate, live and work forever. It also brought with it a new entrepreneurial spirit and a sense of adventure to what had been a very traditional, slow moving and highly controlled sector. For the first time, women started to join the telecom industry in much greater numbers, seeing the enormous opportunities that would be opening up to them. I was one of those young women, who was excited by the prospect of what the future would bring.

While the first evolutionary wave was kick-started by deregulation and privatisation, the following wave was driven by advances in technology – the introduction of the Internet and IP all the way to the handset. This significantly impacted our society as a whole, as it enabled us, as a collective, to create a global and, in some way, transient people centric society, which is increasingly sharing its ideas and culture. We are becoming one without borders and our views, beliefs and philosophies are becoming a melting pot of all of our combined experiences. It also gave us the power to control our lives in real-time from anywhere.

Finally, the digital wave we are currently riding is bringing accelerated automation and virtualization and the creation of everything in the cloud. This, coupled with the introduction of 5G, is forcing the industry to move away from a one-size- fits-all type environment towards hyper-personalized tailored solutions and business models and is therefore triggering the verticalization of our industry. This is putting intense pressure on businesses globally, as they must themselves transform to generate everything, everywhere, now businesses (a-la- Amazon). Everything is expected at a click of a button, from information to clothing, to content, as well as telecom services. There is no doubt about it, telecom and society’s future are inextricably intertwined.

I have seen the future and it will be…

Now wouldn’t we all like to know what the future holds! What the next wave will bring and what our society will look like in 20 years’ time.

We know 5G is being deployed globally as we speak, and will transform the way telecom services are delivered, by enabling countless numbers of use cases and in some way accelerating the blurring of the lines between enterprises and telecom operators. Consequently, going forward, telecom solutions will primarily be driven by specific business requirements and outcomes. The 5G wave will definitely be an enterprise and vertical play.

We are also already seeing the blurring of the lines between the physical and virtual space, with holographic presence, synthetic media and the creation of the metaverse, which is on everyone’s lips at the moment. Some say that we are already living in a virtual world with the use of the internet, but these technologies will bring us one step closer to it.

Additionally, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning are playing a growing role in improving efficiency at all levels. AI and data-driven decisions are already reshaping the way companies do business. Pushing this concept further, some think that ‘Big Brother’ could soon exist in the form of AI — for good or bad, making it evermore easy to monitor our actions, both on and offline. This added to facial recognition tech is also beginning to prove useful for businesses and governments, as it holds the potential for better safety, security and personalisation.

But whatever disruptive technology is around the corner, one thing is for sure: innovation is speeding up and each and every new innovation now feels like a revolution. We must therefore get used to the unknown and build organizations that are able to grow despite constant change. Technology companies must be able to foster constant progress, fluid innovation and attract talent capable of thriving in chaos – as chaos is the new normal.

The telecom conundrum

Looking forward, telecom operators therefore have some challenging times ahead, as moving quickly, being agile and constantly innovating is not necessarily in their DNA. The increased pressure on their revenue and margin added to the mix means that operators around the world must address two contradictory objectives and two separate cultures: they are craving more efficiency and cost savings (in terms of processes, operations, systems and people), while having at the same time to foster the type of organization that brings in new sources of revenue through constant innovation, which demands resources.

As a result of the uncertainty and chaos in which we now live, operators must not only look for efficiency and innovation. They must also make sure that they have a resilient organization. They must aim to nurture resiliency in terms of processes, partners and people and to incorporate a constant state of adapting to change so they are able to work seamlessly without alarm or disruption to the business. The need to balance efficiency, innovation and resilience is the conundrum that they now face.

The need for antifragile organisations

Addressing this conundrum is indeed a constant balancing act and not many will succeed. But, in my view, because of the chaotic nature of our new reality, we cannot stop there. Operators must go one step further to make their organizations antifragile. Antifragility is a concept developed by the well- known philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb and is a property of an organization which increases its capability to thrive as a result of chaos, may it be stressors, shocks, volatility, attacks, or failures.

Antifragility is beyond resilience. The resilient organization resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile organization gets better1

Resilient organizations are complex adaptive systems that succeed in removing the barriers to enabling four key characteristics: diversity, autonomy, interaction and learning. These organizations must therefore cultivate diversity not only of services, but also of technology and people. They should also encourage autonomy by distributing authority to enhance agility. Finally, they must make room for free interaction within the organization and encourage constant experimentation and small mistakes.

An antifragile organization can only exist if a clear vision comes from the top, which aims to build a working environment that fosters intelligent operation, real-time learning and a fluid workforce. Leaders must ensure their organization can be modified quickly to respond to changes in the business or social environment. And this can only happen with a reliable workforce that has imagination and can cope with change.

The power of diversity

So the 1 million dollar question is: How do we transform traditional telecom operators, who are well known to be everything but agile, responsive and innovative, into lean and mean antifragile machines? How do incumbents in the network and mobile space prepare themselves for the uncertain future that lies ahead of us?

I think the first thing we must do is to stop talking and start taking positive action. Industry leaders, if they want to continue to be successful, will need to focus less on the technology and more on the human element. I mean that the industry needs to take the necessary steps to harness the power of young people and diversity to trigger fundamental change. I truly believe that part of the answer lies by empowering the new generation, as sometimes it is sometimes only the young ones who are crazy and bold enough to change the world.

My view is based on my personal experience when, as a young graduate, I was fortunate to be recruited to be a ‘catalyst of change’ by Teleglobe, the international operator in Canada. Fundamental change always come from the top of an organization, and so it was that Charles Sirois, the new CEO of a recently privatised Teleglobe, took positive action to bring about 20 young graduates from all disciplines into the company. We were encouraged to be bold, to put forward our views and get involved at the highest level in the transformation process that had to take place. And the result was the creation of an entirely new entity. One that transformed from a slow and traditional monopoly, to one of the most dynamic international operators in our industry within a matter of a few years.

It can be done and it starts with fully engaging with the young. Then, if the industry wants to build the world of tomorrow it must reflect it, not only in terms of age and gender, but also in terms of culture and philosophy. It is essential for the industry’s future that we involve women, the older generation and people from all walks of life in creating the type of digitally enabled economy and society that we want to achieve.

I believe in this concept so much that I have created an initiative called the ‘Inclusion hub’ with the objective of encouraging more young people to join our industry and help them thrive once they do. It is all about connecting, inspiring and supporting the next generation. It is also the reason why I am so delighted to join the Board of the GTWN, and to have the opportunity to work with my colleagues and friends at the GTWN on mentoring younger women who will be the leaders of tomorrow.

If we succeed in becoming truly inclusive, then and only then will the telecom industry be able to play its pivotal role in building all of our futures.

1 Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, Random House, 2012.

Isabelle is President and Founder of HOT TELECOM, one of the most innovative and creative telecom research and consulting companies in the industry. HOT TELECOM has been supporting operators and vendors on a global basis for over 19 years, more particularly on the subjects of International and wholesale. More recently, Isabelle has been working with many of the world’s telecom service providers to help them define their transformation strategy and has written multiple articles and speaks at conferences on this topic. She is also passionate about encouraging the involvement of women in technology and science and conducts multiple panels and interview with leading women globally. She is a member of the Youth and Women Entrepreneurship ESBN taskforce, which is a working group created by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for the Asia Pacific (ESCAP) to promote the active engagement of the business sector in addressing the issues of sustainable and social inclusiveness in business. She is also the founder of the Inclusion hub, which aims to encourage the participation of young people in the telecom industry. Isabelle holds a Bachelor degree in Engineering, an MBA in Finance and has over 29 years experience working globally.