Part of my Knowledge Base.


Premise

The concept of something being ‘anti-fragile’ was proposed by Nicholas Nassim Taleb and describes the antithesis of fragility – things that benefit from shock and therefore prefer volatility to tranquillity.

Key Takeaway(s)

  1. The antifragility of a system depends on the fragility of its constituent parts.
  2. Shocks and stressors strengthen antifragile systems by forcing them to build up extra capacity.
  3. Tranquil environments result in fragile systems – antifragility stems from volatility.
  4. To take advantage of antifragility you don’t need to understand the opportunities you see, just when to seize them.
  5. To become antifragile, manage your risks so you can benefit from unpredictable events.
  6. The larger the organisation or system is, the harder it will be hit by unexpected crises.
  7. Many modern professions are antifragile, but at everybody else’s expense.
  8. Our desire to eliminate volatility from life will eventually make our society more fragile.
  9. Modern teaching suffers from a “turkey problem” – we misread the past to predict the future.
  10. We undervalue the role of antifragility in fuelling progress and advances in society.

Highlights

  • It’s good to ask ourselves questions such as:
    • What are the things that are making me (or my business) fragile? Smoking, unhealthy foods, negative thinking, inability to receive feedback, too much debt, too many possessions, etc.
    • What is mission-critical that would cause me to fail if it failed? How can I create redundancy there — have 2 of them? Can I create a Plan A, B and C?
    • What kind of support network can I create (or do I have) that can help me recover quickly when a stressful event or failure happens?
    • How can I optimize for the worst case instead of the best? Not try to be in comfort all the time?
    • How can I see an opportunity in every difficulty?

Practical

  • Do small experiments, designed to learn from failure. Small is good. Big and bulky leads to failure when big stressors happen. Instead, small means you’re lean, easily adaptable, mobile, can shift easily. For training, this will mainly apply to how we practice — we can intentionally do small experiments, small training sessions, instead of massive projects or very long sessions. Small experiments, such as training in unprocrastination by doing daily training experiments. Learn from each day’s experiment, and get better and better with time.
  • Adopt the attitude of embracing uncertainty, risk, failure, discomfort. Instead of being afraid of these and avoiding them, let ourselves push into them and get better and better at dealing with them each time we practice. In this way, every failure, every moment of uncertainty or discomfort becomes a wonderful opportunity to practice and get better, something to celebrate!
  • Do weekly reviews — use them to learn, adjust & continually improve. Each daily experiment should be logged — how did you do that day, what went well, what got in the way, what can you learn & adjust going forward. Then take a little time to review each week, and use the data to learn and adjust. This is the kind of structure we need to use the stress in our lives to grow.
  • Use accountability & support. Report every day or every week to people, so that they can support you, hold your feet to the fire, help you see your patterns that are getting in the way. Reporting to other people helps us to learn from our mistakes and failures. Having a group support you also gives you a net that you can fall back on when you fall, so that you don’t have to completely collapse.
  • Build in redundancy. If you have a single point of failure, it’s easy to collapse when things go wrong. For training, I recommend having multiple ways to be held accountable, multiple reminders and check-ins/reviews. These might seem a little tedious until we realize they are making us more likely to stick to our training.
  • Reduce things that make you more fragile. Smoking makes you more fragile, as does unhealthy eating. What makes our training more fragile? Complaining, resentment, and similar negative thinking habits. While we might not be able to avoid these completely, we’re going to try to reduce them, to improve our overall resilience and antifragility.
  • Intentionally inject stress into your life. We don’t want to only put ourselves in comfort, because it trains us to be fragile. But too much stress & pain can cause us to be destroyed (burnout, depression, etc.). So we want to give ourselves just enough stress that we can handle and grow from it. Regularly. So training is to put ourselves into uncertainty & discomfort regularly, when we have the capacity to handle it, and then let it help us grow. Stress, recover, grow.
  • Be kind to yourself — but overcome your tendencies. Beating yourself up doesn’t help. It only makes you more fragile. It is tremendously helpful to learn to be compassionate with yourself. That said, it’s easy to let yourself off the hook. So it helps to bind yourself, when you’re in your best frame of mind, in a commitment contract. Tell people, “If I don’t meditate every day this week, I owe you $100.” Or something like that; it doesn’t have to be money. Don’t let yourself make the training or challenge easier for anything in the coming week — you can only change your training for days that are further than a week.
  • See opportunities in everything. It’s an anti-fragile idea to take advantage of opportunities. When good opportunities arise, be able to take advantage of them. For training, it’s good to learn to see opportunities to practice in everything, and then take advantage of those practice opportunities as much as we can.

Resources