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Article antifragile

Published on June 2nd, 2013 | by Dan Walsh

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Antifragile

I admit, this is an odd selection. The article is a summary of a book, but Bjørn Stærk did such a great job summarizing the book that I felt it was an excellent introduction to a powerful concept: Antifragility.

Yes, that’s a brand new word.

 The right new word sharpens the mind, and makes useful concepts easier to think about. Antifragility lights up a part of the world we often overlook: Things that grow stronger from chaos, uncertainty, resistance and stress.

The book is “Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In it, he bisects the world into things that are either fragile or antifragile.

Fragility is simply any condition where the potential upside is limited while the downside is unlimited, a situation where things will probably turn out well, but only a little well, and in the worst case they may end in disaster.

Drinking and driving is a dangerously fragile system. Statistically, the driver will get home ok, no one is harmed, and he doesn’t have to pay $20 for a cab home. This is a limited upside. The downside is a horrific car wreck that takes multiples lives and destroys the lives of those who survive. Unlimited downside.

Antifragility is the opposite of this, a condition where the potential downside is limited, but the upside is unlimited. A situation where things will probably go badly, but only a little badly, and in the best case they will go really well.

Taking a job at a startup is a classic example of an antifragile system. One might spend two years working late nights at a company that never pays off. Limited downside. But if the company takes off, the stock options made everything worthwhile. This is the dream that keeps Silicon Valley flush with fresh faces.

So, the thesis is pretty simple: favor situations with a limited downside and an unlimited upside over those with a limited upside and an unlimited downside. It sounds obvious, but it’s often overlooked in the moment as fragile systems typically offer an immediate reward (saving $20 on cab fare), and antifragile systems typically offer an immediate punishment (long hours at a stressful job).

Time eats away the fragile, allows the robust to stand unharmed, and strengthens the antifragile. If a technology, tradition or institution has already survived for a long time, it is either robust or antifragile.

 

Read: The Importance of Being Antifragile, by Bjørn Stærk

Get the Book: Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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