What is Anti-Fragility?

Transcending risk-avoidance behavior by taking and owning risks as they come

Michael Woronko
Sep 20, 2019 · 4 min read
Photo by JR Korpa on Unsplash

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

— Nassim Taleb

Originating from the critical mind of Nassim Taleb, professor and former hedge fund manager, anti-fragility is a concept which encompasses the idea that things need chaos and disorder in order to thrive and flourish.

It adheres to the timeworn truism that whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, pushing the notion that we shouldn’t construct our lives or our plans against randomness and misfortune, rather, we should adopt anti-fragility as a means of maneuvering through disorder.

The concept can apply to anything — whether we’re raising our consciousness or raising our children, whether we’re investing or writing or learning. It can apply to the realms of politics, finance, technology, fashion or any particular industry out there, simply because it abides by one hard and fast rule: everything is susceptible to stress, change, and some kind of entropy or volatility.

It is easy to see things around us that like a measure of stressors and volatility: economic systems , your body, your nutrition (diabetes and many similar modern ailments seem to be associated with a lack of randomness in feeding and the absence of the stressor of occasional starvation), your psyche. There are even financial contracts that are antifragile: they are explicitly designed to benefit from market volatility. — N.T.

Nassim’s of the belief that we’ve come to over-fragilize everything — our economy, our politics, our education and our systems of health and well-being. That we’ve come to do this by suppressing randomness and disorder.

He’s not necessarily wrong.

We’ve surely come to love insulation in all its many comfortable forms. It can be argued that we’ve developed avoidance behavior when it comes to struggle; naturally, we ought to have seen this coming as we live in a society that grounds its advancement in profiting off of convenience and expediency.

The technical revolution that we’ve found ourselves in for the better part of a century is driven largely by convenience, as are most consumer models and industrial aspirations. Though, naturally, this all comes at a cost.

Safety, comfort, security, luxury, reassurance — it’s the best of times that we’re undoubtedly privileged to be a part of (at least anyone who happens to have the time, freedom and internet connection to be reading this). Gratitude and platitude aside, we ought to bite down hard on the fact that we’re unfathomably privileged to live the kind of lives we’re living, watching standards soar to astronomical heights and comforts teeter on the edge of hedonistic delights. With this privilege comes an automatic decline in our own respective robustness.

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. Let me be more aggressive: we are largely better at doing than we are at thinking, thanks to antifragility. I’d rather be dumb and antifragile than extremely smart and fragile, any time. — N.T.

And so it can be said that we live in a sheltered world that, slowly but surely, minimizes our risk exposure. As we accumulate wealth and luxury, we grow more concerned over security. As we enjoy longer stretches of time without volatility, we come to grow more weary of its impending threat.

Because, really, the disorder isn’t eternally avoidable. We’re meant to encounter struggle, misfortune, stress, and volatility in any aspect of life.

Nassim’s theory originates and more so compliments the realm of finance, as he challenges the principles found in numerous portfolio management theories — such as portfolio optimization and conservative trading strategy. But it can and does flow through all aspects of life.

Anti-fragility calls upon the love of spontaneity, taking and owning risks as they come, making the most out of our encounters with the unknown. It relegates meaning towards strength, resilience, and tenacity rather than conceding that life is far better played on the safe spectrum of pragmatic sensibility.

Those who take risks, those who embrace challenges and those who venture into the unknown — those are the ones for whom rewards await. These rewards themselves can take many forms, the most notable of which encompass the development of numerous skills that contribute towards a robust and successful person, one capable and more than able to handle disorder, chaos or any unexpected event.

Ultimately, we can embrace our comfort. We can glide through life on an air of content decadence and gratified enjoyment. The problem, however, is the inevitable misfortune that awaits us. Around certain corners or at impending horizons, we’re all due to come face to face with calamity or confront some core-shaking type of catastrophe.

And, when this happens, it may be best to rely on our robust disposition, to walk through the fire with courage as we find solace in our anti-fragile philosophy.

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Michael Woronko

Written by

For hire. www.borealism.ca

Borealism

Borealism

Philosophy | Psychology | Physiology: Bridging the gap between us and ourselves. www.borealism.ca

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