The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Monday, December 28, 2015

Becoming Antifragile

I've mentioned one of my favorite authors, Nassim Taleb and his book, Anti-fragile several times.

An awful lot of things are fragile: they take a blow and break. Some things are robust: they get hit and no worse for wear. A few things are antifragile: they thrive on getting knocked around.

I think that we ourselves, should strive to become antifragile.

The excellent Art of Manliness blog has had several posts on anti fragility. Below is an excerpt from one of them. The full post may be read here. Enjoy.

What’s the opposite of a person or organization that’s fragile?
If you ask most people this question, they’ll likely say “robust” or “resilient.” But philosopher Nassim Nicholas Taleb would say that’s not the right answer.
He argues that if fragile items break when exposed to stress, something that’s the opposite of fragile wouldn’t simply not break (thus staying the same) when put under pressure; rather, it should actually get stronger.
We don’t really have a word to describe such a person or organization, so Taleb created one: antifragile.
In his book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, Taleb convincingly argues that this powerful quality is essential for businesses, governments, and even individuals that wish to thrive in an increasingly complex and volatile world.
If you want to succeed and dominate, to separate yourself from the pack and become the last man standing in any area of life, it’s no longer enough to bounce back from adversity and volatility – to simply be resilient. You have to bounce back stronger and better. You have to become antifragile.

Surviving and Thriving in a Whirlwind of Volatility

First, some background.

Back in 2007, Taleb popularized the idea of “Black Swans” in his book of the same name. In a nutshell, a Black Swan is an event (either positive or negative) “that comes as a surprise, has a major effect, and is often inappropriately rationalized after the fact with the benefit of hindsight.”

The mortgage crisis of 2008 was a Black Swan event, as were both World Wars. Hardly anyone predicted them, they all had huge impacts on history, and they all seemed utterly predictable in hindsight.

Many folks walked away from reading The Black Swan with this takeaway: “Sh** happens, so don’t bother trying to predict things.” But as Taleb recently tweeted, that’s the conclusion “imbeciles” reach (one of the best parts of Taleb’s writing is that he doesn’t mince words).

Rather, the main message of the book is this: “Yes, sh** happens. The trick is to put yourself in a position to survive and even thrive when it does.”

In his most recent book, Antifragile, Taleb offers some simple heuristics to help businesses and individuals thrive in a life swirling with volatility. Before he does that, though, Taleb makes the case that people/systems/organizations/things/ideas can be described in one of three ways: fragile, resilient, or antifragile.

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