Antifragile

How To Benefit From Disorder

Antifragility allows us to deal with the unknown, to do things without understanding them - and do them well


Antifragile. How To Benefit From Disorder. Graphic.


Antifragile is a term coined by Nassim Taleb to represent things that benefit from disorder.

Fragile things are harmed by disorder. For example, a bone china tea cup and saucer are fragile. If you accidentally drop them on the floor, they will break. To protect such fragile crockery, it is handled with care.

Robust and resilient things, such as objects made of steel, are commonly regarded as the opposite of fragile. But, strictly speaking, being unaffected by disorder is not the opposite of being harmed by disorder.

There is not a word that means the "opposite of fragility"  thus Taleb created the term antifragile, which is defined as things that benefit from disorder.

Antifragility is the quality of something that gets better, or thrives, in the presence of disorder.

A good example of something that is antifragile is the body’s immune system which when exposed to a low dose of a virus such as Covid 19 and its variants the body’s immune system starts to develop an ability to fight it.








In his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder
Nassim Taleb says:

"Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure , risk, and uncertainty.

Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness.

The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.

This property is behind everything that has changed with time: evolution, culture, ideas, revolutions, political systems, technological innovation, cultural and economic success, corporate survival, good recipes (say, chicken soup or steak tartare with a drop of cognac), the rise of cities, cultures, legal systems, equatorial forests, bacterial resistance … even our own existence as a species on this planet.

The antifragile loves randomness and uncertainty, which also means— crucially—a love of errors, a certain class of errors.

Antifragility has a singular property of allowing us to deal with the unknown, to do things without understanding them - and do them well.


Robustness is not enough

"Consider that Mother Nature is not just “safe.” It is aggressive in destroying and replacing, in selecting and reshuffling . When it comes to random events, “robust” is certainly not good enough.

In the long run everything with the most minute vulnerability breaks, given the ruthlessness of time— yet our planet has been around for perhaps four billion years and, convincingly, robustness can’t just be it: you need perfect robustness for a crack not to end up crashing the system.

Given the unattainability of perfect robustness, we need a mechanism by which the system regenerates itself continuously by using, rather than suffering from, random events, unpredictable shocks, stressors, and volatility."













Living an Antifragile Life

So how can you apply this insight?

At time of writing in Spring 2021 as the world lurches towards eventual recovery from the coronavirus pandemic life is messy and seemingly getting messier.

Are there ways in which you can position yourself to make gains from this disorder and get stronger?

The answer is yes. There are principles you can follow that will help you.

Shane Parrish suggests these core principles:

  • Stick to simple rules
  • Build in redundancy [have back-up plans] and layers [no single point of failure]
  • Resist the urge to suppress randomness
  • Make sure that you have your soul in the game
  • Experiment and tinker — take lots of small risks
  • Avoid risks that, if lost, would wipe you out completely
  • Don’t get consumed by data
  • Keep your options open
  • Focus more on avoiding things that don’t work than trying to find out what does work
  • Respect the old — look for habits and rules that have been around for a long time

Further reading on the qualities of antifragility and practical tactics for Living Antifragile




    Stop optimizing for today or tomorrow and start playing the long game. That means being less efficient in the short term but more effective in the long term. [Shane Parrish]



If you play the long game you stop optimizing for the short term and start thinking ahead to the second-order consequences of your decisions.

It’s hard to play the long game when there is a visible negative as the first step.

You have to be willing to look like an idiot in the short term to look like a genius in the long term.



    When you do what everyone else does, don’t be surprised when you get the same results everyone else does. [Shane Parrish]












Further reading:

Living Antifragile

Black Swans

Nassim Taleb


Return from "Antifragile" to: Mental Models



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