Is Oblong Antifragile?

Its 2 months since funding for our Volunteer scheme ‘Make a Difference’ funded by Big Lottery - Reaching Communities came to an abrupt end. You can read what Mark said at the time here.


The gist of it being that staff hours nose dived from 160 a week to 90 and we had less money to support groups and Volunteers so no sandwiches although we did have a few bus tokens left (shush).


Quite a few of the staff understand it's par for the course and possibly take a perverse pleasure in the upheaval big gaps in grant funding causes.


First you will want to know what's going on exactly of this moment. Well, we are through to the last stage of decision making for a new bid and have everything crossed. The new project will look pretty similar to the last scheme but have lots of the suggestions captured in our evaluation built in (more training sound good? improved supervision sound better?). You will all be the first to know when we hear back this month.


Mark also mentioned in his last post we would find some creative ways of providing lunch - Glenys has been doing just this. He also mentioned that “We’ve gone through things like this before and always come out stronger” its this sense of strength in adversity i wanted to discuss in this blog.


When i mentioned getting a ‘perverse pleasure’ in the upheaval i didn't want to diminish the hardship the staff and volunteers have felt since May. We worked really hard to minimise the disruption but I probably speak for most of the staff when I say it has been tough covering bits of work you don't normally do and if I am blunt don't like doing while getting paid less.


That aside I believe the excess energy released from overreaction to setbacks is what helps Oblong innovate. It keeps us sharp and it leaves no room for inefficiencies or poor practice to creep in - we simply don't have the time or energy to stomach it.


In the face of large funding cuts its very easy to ‘jump from the sinking ship’ or let petty grievances dominate. I would consider such an organisation to be fragile in the sense that during the good times they get by fine and paper over the cracks but during a crisis they struggle. The opposite to being fragile surely would be robust or resilient and to ensure nothing bad ever happens they would probably stockpile reserves of cash and use that in an emergency. You would be surprised how much medium sized charities have managed to pile up for such eventualities and i suspect not always ‘furthering their objectives’ with it which is what the money should be for.


I would like to introduce a third camp i think we fall into, developed by the author Nassim Taleb , the true opposite to fragile - antifragile.


How is Oblong antifragile exactly? - Oblong does not suffer when exposed to shocks (grant depletions, being kicked out of a building etc) Oblong benefits from the shocks; we thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, risk and uncertainty. This is what i refer to when you see the staff and volunteers not flapping or worrying about some impending doom but the glint in their eye (especially the ones who have been here a while) relishing the opportunity to get stuck into the chaos and sacrifice a few sacred cows in the process then come out the other side improved.


It does make for a somewhat interesting ride as the person doing the finances of course - these short term setbacks are not what worries me though. I would worry more if we had staff and volunteers without any ‘skin in the game’ if we had mountains of cash and a staff and volunteer team who hadn't suffered a little bit.


Whatever happens this month we will regroup and force our way out of any perceived trouble values intact because we do it all the time and it comes naturally.