COVID-19 and Antifragility: 4 key guiding principles and 1 current real-world example

Bill Aulet, Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and Professor of the Practice, MIT Sloan School of Management

Like everyone else, our world has come to a crashing halt as the COVID-19 situation affects the world. Classes, workshops, reunions and talks I had scheduled not just at MIT but also in Poland, Germany, and France had to be cancelled or completely rethought. Just getting basic essentials of life to keep going were now complicated. How all of this ends, and when it ends (if that is the right term), is not clear at all. What is one to do?

As we have discussed for years now, the pace of change is only going to keep increasing. These unusual disruptions should not be considered unusual in our planning process if we are realistic. We don’t know exactly what “normal” will be, but we know it will be something new, and it will come with great speed.

We must be antifragile. This is at the core of what we strive to do as entrepreneurship educators: create antifragile humans and teams. We hope that these building blocks translate to making society more antifragile as well, but, realistically, we have our hands full with just the individuals and teams at this point. So what does this all mean in practice in light of our current crisis?

We must not wallow in despair or blame others. We must have a constructive and positive attitude that we control our own destiny and we can help solve this. Even more so, we must see this as an opportunity to rise up and solve a huge problem to make the world a better place going forward. That should energize us. We need to be the leaders in this time of vast uncertainty, adversity, incomplete information, and people out of homeostasis.

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Why we need to redefine start-up culture with positive mental health habits – Kathleen Stetson and Trish Cotter

Trish Cotter, Senior Lecturer, MIT Sloan School of Management

Kathleen Stetson, Entrepreneur Coach, MIT Sloan MBA ’14

From Thrive Global

Anxiety and depression are rampant among entrepreneurs. The stereotype of a founder — fueled by caffeine and ramen noodles, while forgoing sleep, exercise, fresh air, friends, and family in the quest for success — has been the norm for years. It has been encouraged, and even glorified, by start-up culture.


The Inc. article “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship” explores this topic and explains, “the same passionate dispositions that drive founders heedlessly toward success can sometimes consume them. Business owners are ‘vulnerable to the dark side of obsession.’” Yet this is not healthy or helpful for long-term success.

Compounding this problem is the start-up founder’s hesitation to show weakness or self-doubt. They feel the need to project confidence for investors and employees, despite any inner insecurities. They also tend to connect their self-worth and identity to their start-ups, which can lead to feelings of depression if their start-up fails.

Read the full post at Thrive Global.

Trish Cotter is executive director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, director of the delta v accelerator, and an entrepreneur-in-residence at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Kathleen Stetson is an entrepreneur coach, the creator of Entrepreneurial Confidence and Communication, and an MIT Sloan alumna.

Teaching entrepreneurship, cultivating antifragility – Bill Aulet

Bill Aulet, Managing Director, Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship and Professor of the Practice, MIT Sloan School of Management

From BizEd

When I first started as the managing director of the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship a decade ago, I thought my job was to help students create more and better startups. Fortunately, some wiser and more experienced faculty members reminded me that we were part of an educational institution. It made me think of the old adage that states, “It’s better to teach a man to fish than to give him a fish.” We wanted to teach our students not just how to launch single businesses—we wanted to teach them how to think like entrepreneurs.

As a result, we shifted our focus from creating companies to creating entrepreneurs. To that end, we developed programs for individuals we called the “ready-to-go entrepreneurs.” These are students who are determined to create their own standalone startups. As much as it pains me to say it, back then we were in fact creating people whom others might perceive to be like the characters in the television show “Silicon Valley”—except ours had a moral compass and were better at startup success!

In other words, we believed this group represented our own “beachhead market,” the term entrepreneurs use to describe the one market segment that has proven most open to their products or services. We believed the purpose of teaching entrepreneurship was to train students to build startups.

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Necessity vs. innovation-based entrepreneurs – Trish Cotter

MIT Sloan’s Trish Cotter

From Xconomy

What makes someone an entrepreneur? Most simply defined, an entrepreneur is a person who identifies a need and starts a business to fill that void. But others will argue that a “true” entrepreneur must come up with an innovative new product or service and then operates their business to sell and profit from that innovation.

Under the broader definition are those people who become entrepreneurs out of necessity – starting their own business after losing a job, to supplement their income, or to gain the flexibility to attend to other demands in their lives.

Take Joanne, for example. Joanne started her holistic health business about eight years ago. Although she doesn’t necessarily consider herself an entrepreneur, the necessity of a family member’s health situation created both a challenge and an opportunity that shifted her path of employment. As a graduate of Boston University with a degree in math, and Syracuse with an MBA, Joanne had been working as a technical engagement director managing large-scale database development projects.

However, she was also managing the special needs of a son at home with learning differences. She was hit with a layoff from her job about the same time that her son required more services. She was doing tons of research to help him in any way possible, including alternatives to mainstream treatment, and she started an unpaid e-mail service to friends and family sharing what she learned. The response was tremendous – several people told her that she had changed their lives and she should make a career out of it. She decided to take the plunge, pursued further education, and then started JBS Holistic Nutrition where she offers health coaching and healing alternatives. The nature of her business allows her to be flexible. She is currently working part-time, which enables her to manage the needs of her family and help take care of an ailing parent. She sees her business as an opportunity to help people change their lives for the better.

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How African entrepreneurs can win the new scramble for Africa – Meghan McCormick

MIT Sloan Alumna Meghan McCormick

From Forbes

Anita Erskine has lived the dream of every young person sweeping stages, copying scripts, or fetching coffee at a studio. She was a lowly intern on a talk show, “The Bold & The Beautiful,” when the host of the live show called out sick. Erskine was dressed for a day behind the scenes, not her TV debut, but before she knew it, she was sitting in the host chair thinking to herself, “This lady is never coming back.” And thus, at 18, Anita Erskine started her career in front of the camera.

This story may seem fantastical to the reader, but after spending just a few hours with Erskine is becomes believable. She puts in the time to do the hard work and has a natural aptitude for building a personal brand.

Now, back in Ghana, she’s focused on something bigger than her personal brand. She is focused on using the media to promote the African brand and is doing it in a real and nuanced way. The two prevailing attitudes towards Africa’s brand are nicely portrayed by two editions of The Economist. The May 2000 edition included an article titled Hopeless Africa which cites flood, famine, and war summing up its laundry list of ills with, “No one can blame Africans for the weather, but most of the continent’s shortcomings owe less to acts of God than to acts of man.” Ten years later, we had The Hopeful Continent: Africa Rising which described the continent as being, “home to millions of highly motivated entrepreneurs and increasingly prosperous consumers.”

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