Gain From Disorder, Make Randomness Your Friend.
- Books, Economics, Journal, Mental Models, Nassim Taleb, Popular
- March 5, 2020
Antifragility gains from disorder.
It is the common thread between your bicep, Valhalla and the Ancient Greek Hydra.
To understand Antifragility and how it links so much of life, we have to first define it through the dual prisms of the robust and the fragile.
Things that are fragile, break from disorder.
Take your laptop as an example. What happens when you spill a cup of coffee all over your keyboard?
The laptop breaks. The laptop is fragile and breaks under the pressures of liquid disorder.
Things that are robust, survive disorder.
Take a slab of concrete as an example. What happens when you smash a slab of concrete?
It is barely affected. The concrete is robust to disorder, it can withstand severe pressures.
Things that are antifragile, gain from disorder.
Take your bicep. What happens when you lift a barbell at the gym?
The muscles tear, and then after, heal stronger. They are antifragile. Muscles gain from disorder. When they are exposed to pressures, they improve.
Enough disorder can break anything. There is a threshold to antifragility.
Imagine, that when you spilt your coffee over your laptop there was only a handful of drops left in the cup. Despite the disorder, your laptop is going to be just fine. You will dry it in time, and your fragile laptop will survive. The threshold of disorder, which in this case, is about half a cup of coffee, was not met.
With the concrete on the other hand.
I can exceed the robustness threshold if I take a sledgehammer to the slab. The concrete will break.
If I try heave a 100KG barbell for a bicep curl, I am likely to tear my back and tear my biceps. They will recover, but not necessarily stronger than before. There is a threshold to disorder that separates the gains from game over.
Antifragility In The Archetypes
Nassim has only admiration for the classics. It is through their ideas that he measures the Lindy Effect.
Through narrative and reference to the Phoenix, Hydra and Damocles, Taleb further defines for us the concept of Antifragility.
Let’s Have A Look
Damocles is perfectly fragile. In 45BC Sicily, he wished to trade places with the King for he perceived only the luxury of being a ruler. A proverbial sword hung above Damocles which rendered him unable to enjoy the splendours of luxury. No matter what Damocles would do, he was fragile to the outcome.
The Phoenix is perfectly robust. No matter how the Phoenix dies, from the ashes he is always reborn. He is reborn no better and no worse. Making him perfectly robust to disorder.
The Hydra from Ancient Greek mythology is Antifragile. This is an animal who regrows two heads where one is cut off. The Hydra would famously replace one head with two in battle. From disorder the Hydra improves in equal measure by 100%. The Hydra is Antifragile.
“Fragility implies more to lose than to gain, fragility equals more downside than upside, it equals unfavorable symmetry. Antifragility on the other hand, implies more to gain than to lose, it equals more upside than downside, Antifragility equals favorable asymmtery”
Antifragility In Norse Mythology
Baldur, the son of Odin, was the most favorable and beautiful of all the gods. Odin, fearful for his beloved son’s death, made it such (in a very convoluted way) that nothing in the cosmos could harm him.
For their entertainment the Gods would hurl dangerous items at Buldur, knowing him to be perfectly Robust to them.
It took Loki, the source of disorder, to prove just how fragile Baldur truly was. He tricked another god into hurling mistletoe at Baldur, the most harmless and innocent substance of the cosmos and also the one thing that could harm Baldur.
Baldur dropped dead on the spot. Proving the threshold for his robustness and exposing just how fragile Baldur truly was.
Antifragility gains from disorder
What Made The Vikings So Fierce In Battle?
They were fighting for honour in the eyes of the gods.
They were fighting for a seat in Valhalla. Viking warriors improved from disorder. So much so, that they have left a legacy for being the most fierce warriors in history. The worse their odds, the more heroic they would perform.
The notion of dyeing gloriously in battle made them Antifragile.
The book is intentionally unstructured.
Nassim stumbled across this concept of Antifragility so rooted in many assumptions and then tried digging it up everywhere he could.
The book, much like all accompanying works in The Incerto, is multidisciplinary.
“Beware of people who do not want to expand outside of their comfort zone”
“The absence of challenge degrades the best of the best”
Personal Development Is Antifragile.
The more you fail, the more you learn, the stronger you get. Challenge, discomfort and failure are necessary disorder input to becoming Antifragile.
Beware of people who do not want to expand outside of their comfort zone.
This hit me hard.
You can be Robust in the Golden Jail, but most are Fragile. And unless you are testing your Antifragile threshold, whatever Robustness you have will wane day after day.
So rather than getting stuck trying to predict the future. Focus on becoming Antifragile. Embrace the randomness that dictates life.
The only true way to combat randomness is through becoming Antifragile.
Taleb tirades against ‘modernity’.
Modernity has removed many natural stressors from our life. You would not have survived fat, lazy and naive in generations past. Vast social safety nets and the proliferation of affordable technologies have made us all more fragile.
Examples Of Fragility In Modernity
In ‘modernity’, we are currently recording higher numbers of suicides year on year.
The consumption of an antidepressant masks your problem and offers no path to Antifragility. The proliferation of mental fragility en mass is root cause for so many suicides. Mood swings are a natural part of the human condition. If someone is truly suicidal then yes, antidepressant intervention is needed (disorder threshold). But for everyone else, who in ‘modernity’ are offered few barriers to continual consumption, antidepressants make you weaker and more fragile to disorder. Which ultimately manifests itself through self harm or failure in life.
“The ability to wrestle with our dark side is part of life and great inspiration for creation and purpose”.
Learning In The Wild
If you have tried learning another language before then you will know how much quicker the ‘getting thrown in the deep-end’ technique fares, against the schooling technique.
Learning ‘in the wild’ is considerably more effective at accelerating and sharpening ones ability to speak. Suffering embarrassment and real world critique will teach you how to speak much faster than revising a textbook and sitting grammer tests.
You are stressed further and exposed to more random disorder ‘in the wild’ than in the classroom.
Never Cross A River On Average 4ft Deep
For the Antifragile, shocks bring more benefits as their intensity increases up to the point of threshold.
If the river you are crossing is, on average, 4ft deep, then you have no way of knowing what the deepest depth is, or the shallowest shallow.
Small accumulative shocks, of 4ft, is endurable and will build Antifragility. But one shock that is 10ft deep will wipe you out. So never cross a river that is, on average, 4ft deep.
This is a lesson on applying Antifragility to your life. Whether you are trying to improve yourself or assess risk, take into account the benefit of small accumulated shocks versus one major knock out blow.
Success can make you Fragile.
As a rich man, you now have much more to lose than you did before. You are afraid of becoming poor. The Stoics recognised this and would practice poverty as a means to reduce their Fragility at losing their wealth.
Seneca, at one point Rome’s richest man, is a case example of this. He was a master of his wealth, not a slave. Willing at any point to give it all up should the downside of his wealth exceed the upside. Seneca was Antifragile.
The solution too many of life’s problems is in removing things, rarely adding. Via Negativa is addition through subtraction.
Add to your life and make yourself more Antifragile by removing practices, habits or inputs that make you Fragile.
To paraphrase Steve Jobs..
“Eliminating obvious downsides like bad habits and debt will provide a good life; eliminating good things so you can focus on the very best will lead to a truly flourishing life”.
Antifragility is a framework for life. And as much as Nassim Taleb will despise this inference, Antifragility should well be stacked on the ‘self help’ shelves of book stores, rather than the business and finance. Life is extremely random, and can strip you bare at any moment. We cannot understand the outcome of randomness. Wind extinguishes a candle, but energises a fire.
Make yourself Antifragile.
“True wealth is the subtraction of the iatrogenic, a worry free sleep, a clear conscience, the absence of envy, a good appetite, muscle strength, physical energy, laughing often, no meeting rooms and periodical surprises”
“The best way to verify that you are alive is by checking you like variations. Remember that food would not have a taste if it were not for hunger, results are meaningless without effort, no joy without sadness, or conviction without uncertainty and an ethical life isn’t so when stripped of personal risks”
Evidence Nassim starting to think about Skin In The Game.
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Key take aways from Antifragile
The concept of antifragility, first introduced by Nassim Taleb in his book “Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder,” challenges the traditional idea that stability and resilience are the ultimate goals for individuals, organizations, and societies. According to Taleb, antifragility is the property of a system that actually benefits from shocks and disturbances, rather than just resisting them.
Taleb argues that many systems in the real world, such as economies, ecosystems, and even human bodies, are antifragile. For example, a business that is antifragile will not only survive a recession, but may actually thrive in the face of economic uncertainty. Similarly, an ecosystem that is antifragile will not only survive a natural disaster, but may actually become more diverse and resilient as a result.
Antifragile in decision-making & risk management
The idea of antifragility has important implications for decision-making and risk management. According to Taleb, traditional approaches to risk management, such as diversification and hedging, are often ineffective for antifragile systems. Instead, he argues that we should focus on identifying and promoting antifragility in our systems and organizations.
Overall, the concept of antifragility, as presented by Nassim Taleb, offers a new perspective on how to deal with uncertainty and volatility in the world, and how to build stronger, more resilient systems in the face of change.