Previously titled: Achievement focused and risk focused types
I wrote this in 2009. After reading the book Antifragile by Nassim Taleb in 2012, a superb philosophical essay, I realize that the people I call achievement focused are “antifragile” by his terms and the others are experts at handling risk (not fragilistas, which Nassim uses as a derogatory term).
When it comes to performance there are two personality types. We’ll call them antifragile (previously: achievement focused) and risk handlers (previously: risk focused). These two types of people approach success and failure in almost opposite ways and it’s good to realize this and know which type you are, as well as recognize these categories in the other stakeholders of your projects.
Risk handlers see success as a bar that they have to reach.
The best example of a risk handler is an airline pilot. The pilot has to get the plane and the passengers to the destination airport, safely. That’s a complete success. Nobody is going to thank the pilot for flying further, higher, faster, visiting a new city on the way, or doing acrobatics. Rather, the pilot has to look out for everything that can go wrong during the flight and avoid or recover from that situation. They’re constantly looking at risk, or potential failure, and try to avoid it.
Other examples of risk handlers are accountants, business managers of stable organizations, project managers, film producers, civil engineers, security and military officers, criminals, surgeons, mountaineers, and unfortunately many parents.
Antifragile (achievement focused) people assume a baseline level of success and strive to maximize value from there.
The purest antifragile person is an artist. Every artist, once competent, will succeed in applying paint to canvas, delivering a song, or remembering their lines. Artists are not concerned with reaching this baseline but with how far they can go from there. Is it new? Is it inspiring? Is the audience ecstatic? Can it be better? Can the work or the artist push new boundaries? Artists are always focused on achievement, and by definition this always has to be ahead of what they can currently reach.
Other antifragile roles are entrepreneurs, other growth-oriented managers, scientists, product managers, film directors, architects, good doctors with a health mindset, misfits and agitators, athletes, and all kids.