A friend recently lent me a book to read, and I, being a lover of books, was quite excited to jump into it, although I was also slightly intimidated by its weight and subject matter. The book is Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.
Here is an excerpt about the book:
“Just as human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension, and rumors or riots intensify when someone tries to repress them, many things in life benefit from stress, disorder, volatility, and turmoil. What Taleb has identified and calls “antifragile” is that category of things that not only gains from chaos but need it in order to survive and flourish.”
Doesn’t that sound intriguing? I thought it did, and I really did enjoy the book, at least what I understood. Unfortunately, the author has a background in finance, and I have neither the slightest understanding nor any interest in the world of finance. My eyes would tend to glaze over as the author would make connections with the world of finance and big business, and sometimes I had difficulty following his train of thought, most likely due to my own limited education and experience. Still, it is a good book worth reading.
In my own interpretation of the author’s premise, I feel that I can relate fairly well to the concept of antifragility. Perhaps I am not always antifragile, however, I can look back at various points in my life and see how I have come through stress, disorder, volatility, or turmoil. In many instances, although you can’t always recognize it in the moment, the turmoil has been the catalyst for a surge in self-confidence and strength, for building up stronger relationships, for growth in character.
A bad day at work can often just be a bad day, but a crazy day at work is often where I am at my best. Even though my body may feel as if I am merely surviving such a day, my mind knows that I am thriving, that taking the chaos as it comes and running with it is where I want to be. Earlier in the week I had many more thoughts as to how I was antifragile, but those thoughts have slipped away now that I am in need of them. It doesn’t matter. As much as possible, I want to be antifragile.
“Wind extinguishes a candle and energizes fire.”
“But like your daddy said
The same sun that melts the wax can harden clay
And the same rain that drowns the rat will grow the hay
And the mighty wind that knocks us down
If we lean into it
Will drive our fears away”
That is, in my opinion, the essence of antifragile. To be fragile is to be easily broken, damaged or negatively affected by stress, bumps, mistakes, or shocks. The author tells us that there is no word to adequately express the opposite of fragile. Instead, we use words like robust or resilient or durable, but something which is robust may be able to survive a shock but will never be better off for having experienced the shock in the first place. The antifragile does get better!
I am not a philosopher. I have no years of post-secondary education to make me feel smarter than I am. My eloquence with words may be questionable, too. This little blog post is unlikely to do justice to the topic of antifragility, but you can always read the book for yourself.