Law of ANTIFRAGILITY by Nassim Taleb — Don’t avoid, instead chase mistakes, failure, stress and chaos

What is Antifragile

Nassim Taleb noticed there’s no word in English vocabulary or in other languages as well that can define the antonym of Fragile.

The most common answer to come out in English language would be — Strong, resilient, tough, robust, unbreakable etc.

But by definition strong or robust means — something that can resist or withstand pressure.

(Just like the opposite of negative is not neutral, it’s positive.)

Example -

  1. Mythological — The classic example of something antifragile is Hydra, the Greek mythological creature that has numerous heads. When one is cut off, two grow back in its place.
  2. Biological— In ancient time one of the most common method of assassination was poison — to counter that, kings, queens or any other high up citizen who bear the risk of assassination used to induce small amount of poison from time to time — so their body can develop antibodies naturally to fight the poison without getting hurt (as the portion of would be too small to harm you in any serious way) — eventually your body will get accustom to the poison and it will stop affecting on you.
  3. Bodybuilding — ‘lifting weights increases your muscle mass.’ You go to the gym, lift weight, your muscle gets sore. And after some recovery, your body is equipped to lift more weight than before.

(We apply this principal to our bodies, then why not for our minds)

Hydra (mythological example of antifragile) — In Greek mythology the Hydra was a serpent-like monster. If you cut off one hydra head, two more would grow back in its place.

Few common ways of practicing antifragility :

1. Become Financially Independent (Don’t Have Debt)

Nassim Taleb have a funny term for financial independence, he calls it having — “fuck you money” — A sum large enough to get most, if not all, of the advantages of wealth but not its side effects, such as having to attend a black-tie charity event and being forced to listen to a polite exposition of the details of a marble-rich house renovation.

Advantage of fuck you money — The most important one being independence and the ability to only occupy your mind with matters that interest you.

It is the nature of dependency itself is fragile. You should always strive to become independent in every way possible. Especially the financial and hierarchical independence — As they both result in freedom of time, by releasing you from the burden of not having to work or deal with things, companies, people you don’t want to.

Don’t have debt — When you don’t have debt you don’t care about your reputation in economics circles — and somehow it is only when you don’t care about your reputation that you tend to have a good one.

Just as in matters of seduction people lend the most to those who need them the least.

My experience is that money and transactions purify relations; ideas and abstract matters like “recognition” and “credit” warp them, creating an atmosphere of perpetual rivalry

2. Acute Stress > Chronic Stress

Humans tend to do better with acute than with chronic stressors, particularly when the former are followed by ample time for recovery, which allows the stressors to do their jobs as messengers. (Work hard — Rest — Recover)

Such stressors would be certainly better than the mild but continuous stress of a boss, mortgage, tax problems, guilt over procrastination with one’s tax return, exam pressures, chores, emails to answer, forms to complete, daily commutes — things that only make you feel trapped in life. In other words, the pressures brought about by civilization.

Work like a lion, not like a cow — You should function like an athlete — which means you train hard — then you sprint — Then you rest — and reassess (get your feedback) — then you train some more, sprint again, reassess.

Naval Ravikant

3. Don’t be afraid of Trial and Error

When you are fragile you depend on things following the exact planned course, with as little deviation as possible — for deviation are more harmful than helpful

Trial and Error : The random element in trial and error is not quite random, if it is carried out rationally, using error as a source of information. If every trial and error provides you with information about what does not work, you start zooming in on a solution — so every attempt becomes more valuable, more like an expense than an error. And of course you make discoveries along the way.

The Romans had a strange relation to wealth: anything that “softens” or “millifies” was seen negatively. They disliked comfort and understood it’d side effects.

4. Signal vs. Noise

The signal is the meaningful information that you’re actually trying to detect. The noise is the random, unwanted variation or fluctuation that interferes with the signal.

Difference between noise and signal : Noise is what you suppose to ignore, signal what you need to pay attention.

Modern world with the internet access and media’s constant gibberish is made to create lot of noise.

Noise clutters your life, make you reactive to every little piece of information or action.

We are not made to understand the point, so we overreact emotionally to noise. The best solution is to only look at very large changes in data or condition, never at small ones.

5. Optionality

In order for something to qualify as an option, it must have limited downside with large, open-ended upside.

If you “have optionality,” you don’t have much need for what is commonly called intelligence, knowledge, insight, skills, and these complicated things that take place in our brain cells.

For you don’t have to be right that often. All you need is the wisdom to not do unintelligent things to hurt yourself and recognize favorable outcomes when they occur.

(The key is that your assessment doesn’t need to be made beforehand, only after the outcome.)

Optionality makes you antifragile, they give you the ability to switch from a course of action, with limited or no downside.

Optionality gives you power to walk away from any circumstance that seem fit to you as unacceptable. And it is commonly said in negotiations that — Negotiations are won by whoever cares less.

6. Barbell Strategy — Balancing two extremes

What do we mean by barbell? The barbell (a bar with weight on both ends
that weight lifters use) is meant to illustrate the idea of combination of
extremes kept separate, with avoidance of middle.

The weight at extremes should not be necessarily symmetric: it is just compound of two extremes, with nothing in the center.

Take the following mating approach example:

90% accountant, 10% rockstar -
Females in the animal kingdom tend to marry the equivalent of accountant,
someone stable who can provide, and once in a while they cheat with
aggressive alpha, the rock star, as a part of dual strategy. They limit their
downside while using extrapair copulation to get the genetic upside, or some
great fun, or both.

Taleb use this strategy in his investments as well —By investing 90% capital in safe Risk-Free assets, which cover from inflation. On the other hand he invests 10%, or the remaining capital in very risky (but with possibility of very high reward) investments.

Make sure you are barbelled, whatever that means in your business.

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Rahul Patil

Rahul Patil

Writer and aspiring film-maker. Here to write about the art of storytelling, movies, books, practical psychology and new things that I'm learning.