Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by N TalebAntifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by N Taleb

Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

byN Taleb

Hardcover | November 27, 2012

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Antifragile is a standalone book in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s landmark Incerto series, an investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision-making in a world we don’t understand. The other books in the series are Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, Skin in the Game, and The Bed of Procrustes.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the bestselling author of The Black Swan and one of the foremost thinkers of our time, reveals how to thrive in an uncertain world.

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 gain from chaos but need it in order to survive and flourish. 

In The Black Swan, Taleb showed us that highly improbable and unpredictable events underlie almost everything about our world. In Antifragile, Taleb stands uncertainty on its head, making it desirable, even necessary, and proposes that things be built in an antifragile manner. The antifragile is beyond the resilient or robust. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better and better.

Furthermore, the antifragile is immune to prediction errors and protected from adverse events. Why is the city-state better than the nation-state, why is debt bad for you, and why is what we call “efficient” not efficient at all? Why do government responses and social policies protect the strong and hurt the weak? Why should you write your resignation letter before even starting on the job? How did the sinking of the Titanic save lives? The book spans innovation by trial and error, life decisions, politics, urban planning, war, personal finance, economic systems, and medicine. And throughout, in addition to the street wisdom of Fat Tony of Brooklyn, the voices and recipes of ancient wisdom, from Roman, Greek, Semitic, and medieval sources, are loud and clear.

Antifragile is a blueprint for living in a Black Swan world.

Erudite, witty, and iconoclastic, Taleb’s message is revolutionary: The antifragile, and only the antifragile, will make it.

Praise for Antifragile

“Ambitious and thought-provoking . . . highly entertaining.”The Economist

“A bold book explaining how and why we should embrace uncertainty, randomness, and error . . . It may just change our lives.”Newsweek
Nassim Nicholas Taleb has devoted his life to problems of uncertainty, probability, and knowledge. He spent nearly two decades as a businessman and quantitative trader before becoming a full-time philosophical essayist and academic researcher in 2006. Although he spends most of his time in the intense seclusion of his study, or as a fl...
Title:Antifragile: Things That Gain From DisorderFormat:HardcoverDimensions:544 pages, 9.57 × 6.4 × 1.35 inPublished:November 27, 2012Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1400067820

ISBN - 13:9781400067824


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Most talented, wisest author out there Incredible author, he has the world at his feet. Amazing book. Please write another!
Date published: 2017-12-26
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good read In Antifragile, Nassim Taleb postulates that all systems/organizations/professions can be classified into three categories: Fragile, Robust and Antifragile. Fragile systems are those that are prone to collapse in the presence of ‘Black Swan’ events and whose exposure to any volatility can lead to disastrous consequences. Robust systems show immunity to volatility (up to a point) and Antifragile systems derive benefit from small amounts of volatility. When I first started reading the book, I wasn’t sure what to make of it. Was it a how-to book on improving organizational function? Was it simply going to be a critique of institutions etc. that generally fall into the category of ‘fragile’? Was the book going to show us how to make ourselves ‘antifragile’? It wasn’t any of those things. Yes, there was Taleb’s usual ranting (and maybe a little self-righteous) style as he deconstructed the education, research, medical and financial arenas to show their fragility. If you happen to be in any of those fields you had better steel yourself for his invective. And individual writers and economists don’t escape without injury either. Thomas Friedman and Joseph Stiglitz will probably not be sending Christmas cards anytime soon. What Taleb does do in his book is examine antifragility, firstly, by looking at the fragility in the world around us. He describes how much of the world around us strives for stability and in that striving creates more fragility. By removing all volatility we increase fragility. Fragility demands that we limit our actions to those in which we understand causality whereas antifragility just accepts the relationships that surround us in our world and the wisdom of our forbearers. In the last part (‘book’ as he refers to it), Taleb looks at the ethical implications of antifragility and how it is important that advice only be accepted from people who only have “skin in the game”. He also closes with a warning about how antifragility in one system can create fragility in other systems. If you read Taleb’s “Black Swan” then you don’t have to worry about this book being simply a re-hashing of his earlier work. This book takes his analysis of systems in new directions and makes us look at the world differently. Some of his old characters are back, such as Nero Tulip and Fat Tony (who gets to debate Socrates). I do wish that that author would have spent more time talking about volatility thresholds and at what point volatility turns antifragile and robust organizations into fragile ones. Also, I would have also liked more information regarding how the antifragility of some systems can lead to the fragility of others. The book is amusing and entertaining. It will make you look at the world around you, the organizations to which you belong and your relationships with others in a new light.
Date published: 2015-05-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Antifragility Should Become a Household Word Nassim Taleb has written a very worthy companion to his previous two popular books – Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan. Taleb tells us that the three books “are non-overlapping chapters from [a] central idea, a main corpus focused on uncertainty, randomness, probability, disorder, and what to do in a world we don’t understand.” One need not have read the other two to enjoy this book, but those who haven’t will likely find themselves back in the bookstore to catch up once they’ve finished Antifragile. The three books can stand alone, but as Taleb points out, are extremely complimentary. Readers who enjoyed the previous two books will love this one, and as before Taleb’s writing is long on narrative and short on formulas (the technical writing can be accessed free online in short, supporting documents); complex ideas served in easily digestible bites. His familiar, erudite (some would say high falutin’) style is rich in stories, anecdotes, and of course philosophy and Mediterranean history. He is as cranky as ever, taking liberal shots at economists, bankers, MBAs and in particular Harvard (though he does reserve a soft spot for grandmothers, Steve Jobs and the Sopranos). He is also unusually frank in criticising well known thinkers and economists, though always from a point of principle rather than maliciously, sometimes by position and other times by name. Taleb is also more thoughtful and philosophical in this book, exploring to the fullest his central ideas noted above and their impacts on systems and entities. Specifically, Taleb contends that entities or systems are either fragile, robust or – in his words – antifragile. Fragile is the china collection in the display case (or our financial or economic system); robust is a rock; and antifragile is, well, the opposite of fragile, where a random knock strengthens rather than harms (or eliminates) the entity. Nature is the ultimate antifragile system, made stronger and more robust via stresses. Nature values diversity between organisms more than within organisms, though even within there are stabilizing redundancies - both larger scale (two kidneys) and genetic (duplicative and unused code) - developed through trial and error. A key point is that nature’s ‘system’ has developed in a ‘bottom-up’ series of trial and error, and not like many man-made systems (economics, finance, nation states) that are ‘top down’. In the same way, Taleb contends that a system of city-states will be more robust over time than will be a system of nations; that there is a more natural lifeblood to city-states and therefore better longevity when stresses appear. The long history of Taleb’s native Lebanon seems to prove well his point. Time is an enemy to fragility and friend to antifragility - something that options traders in capital markets know explicitly, as the value of an option increases with the time to expiration. Taleb’s earlier professional work with options and non-linear payoffs, and his more recent years of thinking and writing about the subject has of course produced his trilogy, but it has also produced some thought provoking guidance. For example, Taleb tells us he values the worth of a book by how long it has been in print; that books that have stood the test of time are much worthier of his and our attention than the ephemeral best-sellers (Jonathan Livingston Seagull anyone?) that capture our attention and quickly fade. In a narrative irony, Taleb tells of the fallibility of history and the biases of victors (or vanquished, if they’re telling the story) when they cherry pick examples to support their story, but of course Taleb does the same with his (well told) examples from his life, childhood, and ancestral home. And while Taleb’s stories and opinions are generally entertaining and appropriate, he does digress occasionally, for example when he extols the virtues of imperial measures versus those of metric. Small quibbles for a great work. While Taleb’s ideas do translate to the world of finance – his professional background – Antifragile is neither a finance book nor a blueprint on how to profit from markets with options. It is a book of philosophy and logic, well reasoned and applicable to the world in general. It will make you think and question not just your day to day life, but also the society we’ve built around us. An important and thought provoking book, and using Taleb’s measure, likely to stand the test of time.
Date published: 2012-12-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Brief Summary and Review *A full executive summary of this book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Monday, December 17, 2012. The concept of fragility is very familiar to us. It applies to things that break when you strike or stretch them with a relatively small amount of force. Porcelain cups and pieces of thread are fragile. Things that do not break so easily when you apply force to them we call strong or resilient, even robust. A cast-iron pan, for instance. However, there is a third category here that is often overlooked. It includes those things that actually get stronger or improve when they are met with a stressor (up to a point). Take weight-lifting. If you try to lift something too heavy, you’ll tear a muscle; but lifting more appropriate weights will strengthen your muscles over time. This property can be said to apply to living things generally, as in the famous aphorism ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. Strangely, we don’t really have a word for this property, this opposite of fragility. For author Nassim Nicholas Taleb, this is a real shame, for when we look closely, it turns out that a lot of things (indeed the most important things) have, or are subject to, this property. Indeed, for Taleb, pretty much anything living, and the complex things that these living things create (like societies, economic systems, businesses etc.) have, or must confront this property in some way. This is important to know, because understanding this can help us understand how to improve these things (or profit from them), and failing to understand it can cause us to unwittingly harm or even destroy them (and be harmed by them). So Taleb has taken it upon himself to name and explore this curious property and its implications; and in his new book ‘Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder’ Taleb reports on his findings. As the title would suggest, what Taleb has found is that most complex systems not only gain from small stressors, but they are designed to gain more when these stressors are distributed irregularly, or randomly. This point is more difficult to accept because we tend to dislike disorder and randomness. Disorder can be frightening, because unpredictable, and is therefore not something that we readily welcome. So what we often do is attempt to remove the random and disorderly from our systems, and make them smooth. For example, we may try to take the boom and bust out of the economy, and instead aim for a gradual upward trend. For Taleb, though, this is a big mistake, because while removing the small shocks in a complex system may create stability for a time, it actually upsets the system and makes it prone to major shocks in the long term. What’s more, unlike the small shocks (that refine and improve the system), the major shocks are usually damaging, and can even destroy the system. So removing the small shocks from a complex system doesn’t create stability; rather, it creates the illusion of stability. In the economy, for instance, you get a long period of stability followed by a major crash. This phenomenon is not just confined to the economy. Indeed, Taleb maintains that it is the spirit of the age to believe that we can remove the disorder from any system, and render it orderly, smooth and predictable. We are almost always mistaken in this, and end up creating systems that are prone to major damage and even outright destruction (in Taleb’s language, we ‘fragilize’ these systems). We call the damaging and destructive episodes Black Swan events (Taleb himself coined the term). Better it would be by far, Taleb argues, to accept and even welcome a certain amount of disorder, randomness and jaggedness in our lives and systems, and put ourselves in a position to profit from the unpredictable, rather than eradicate it. On this last point, Taleb maintains that it is indeed possible to profit from the unpredictable (without having to actually predict any specific thing—which is next to impossible in the realm of the complex anyway). We simply need to recognize what systems are fragile (and therefore prone to collapse), and what systems are antifragile (and therefore prone to grow stronger from stressors), and get out of the way of the former, and put our faith in the latter. This applies not only to large, overarching systems like corporations, economic systems and political societies, but our own bodies and minds. Taleb has a lot to say, and a bone to pick, so his style often comes across as arrogant—even bombastic. Some will like this, while others will be annoyed. Also, Taleb jumps around and repeats himself often. This was more annoying to me than his style, but ultimately I think the content rose well above this, and I truly enjoyed the book, and think it deserves a read. A full executive summary of the book will be available at newbooksinbrief dot com, on or before Monday, December 17; a podcast discussion of the book will be available shortly thereafter.
Date published: 2012-12-09

Read from the Book

Chapter 1Between Damocles and HydraPlease cut my head off—­How by some magic, colors become colors—­ How to lift weight in DubaiHalf of Life Has No NameYou are in the post office about to send a gift, a package full of champagne glasses, to a cousin in Central Siberia. As the package can be damaged during transportation, you would stamp “fragile,” “breakable,” or “handle with care” on it (in red). Now what is the exact opposite of such situation, the exact opposite of “fragile”?Almost all people answer that the opposite of “fragile” is “robust,” “resilient,” “solid,” or something of the sort. But the resilient, robust (and company) are items that neither break nor improve, so you would not need to write anything on them—­have you ever seen a package with “robust” in thick green letters stamped on it? Logically, the exact opposite of a “fragile” parcel would be a package on which one has written “please mishandle” or “please handle carelessly.” Its contents would not just be unbreakable, but would benefit from shocks and a wide array of trauma. The fragile is the package that would be at best unharmed, the robust would be at best and at worst unharmed. And the opposite of fragile is therefore what is at worst unharmed.We gave the appellation “antifragile” to such a package; a neologism was necessary as there is no simple, noncompound word in the Oxford English Dictionary that expresses the point of reverse fragility. For the idea of antifragility is not part of our consciousness—­but, luckily, it is part of our ancestral behavior, our biological apparatus, and a ubiquitous property of every system that has survived.Figure 1. A package begging for stressors and disorder. Credit: Giotto Enterprise and George Nasr.To see how alien the concept is to our minds, repeat the experiment and ask around at the next gathering, picnic, or pre-­riot congregation what’s the antonym of fragile (and specify insistently that you mean the exact reverse, something that has opposite properties and payoff). The likely answers will be, aside from robust: unbreakable, solid, well-­built, resilient, strong, something-­proof (say, waterproof, windproof, rustproof)—­ unless they’ve heard of this book. Wrong—­and it is not just individuals but branches of knowledge that are confused by it; this is a mistake made in every dictionary of synonyms and antonyms I’ve found.Another way to view it: since the opposite of positive is negative, not neutral, the opposite of positive fragility should be negative fragility (hence my appellation “antifragility”), not neutral, which would just convey robustness, strength, and unbreakability. Indeed, when one writes things down mathematically, antifragility is fragility with a negative sign in front of it.This blind spot seems universal. There is no word for “antifragility” in the main known languages, modern, ancient, colloquial, or slang. Even Russian (Soviet version) and Standard Brooklyn English don’t seem to have a designation for antifragility, conflating it with robustness.Half of life—­the interesting half of life—­we don’t have a name for.Please Behead MeIf we have no common name for antifragility, we can find a mythological equivalence, the expression of historical intelligence through potent metaphors. In a Roman recycled version of a Greek myth, the Sicilian tyrant Dionysius II has the fawning courtier Damocles enjoy the luxury of a fancy banquet, but with a sword hanging over his head, tied to the ceiling with a single hair from a horse’s tail. A horse’s hair is the kind of thing that eventually breaks under pressure, followed by a scene of blood, high-­pitched screams, and the equivalent of ancient ambulances. Damocles is fragile—­it is only a matter of time before the sword strikes him down.In another ancient legend, this time the Greek recycling of an ancient Semitic and Egyptian legend, we find Phoenix, the bird with splendid colors. Whenever it is destroyed, it is reborn from it own ashes. It always returns to its initial state. Phoenix happens to be the ancient symbol of Beirut, the city where I grew up. According to legend, Berytus (Beirut’s historical name) has been destroyed seven times in its close to five-­thousand-­year history, and has come back seven times. The story seems cogent, as I myself saw the eighth episode; central Beirut (the ancient part of the city) was completely destroyed for the eighth time during my late childhood, thanks to the brutal civil war. I also saw its eighth rebuilding.But Beirut was, in its latest version, rebuilt in even better shape than the previous incarnation—­and with an interesting irony: the earthquake of a.d. 551 had buried the Roman law school, which was discovered, like a bonus from history, during the reconstruction (with archeologists and real estate developers trading public insults). That’s not Phoenix, but something else beyond the robust. Which brings us to the third mythological metaphor: Hydra.Hydra, in Greek mythology, is a serpent-­like creature that dwells in the lake of Lerna, near Argos, and has numerous heads. Each time one is cut off, two grow back. So harm is what it likes. Hydra represents antifragility.The sword of Damocles represents the side effect of power and success: you cannot rise and rule without facing this continuous danger—­ someone out there will be actively working to topple you. And like the sword, the danger will be silent, inexorable, and discontinuous. It will fall abruptly after long periods of quiet, perhaps at the very moment one has gotten used to it and forgotten about its existence. Black Swans will be out there to get you as you now have much more to lose, a cost of success (and growth), perhaps an unavoidable penalty of excessive success. At the end, what matters is the strength of the string—­not the wealth and power of the dining party. But, luckily, this is an identifiable, measurable, and tractable vulnerability, for those who want to listen. The entire point of the Triad is that in many situations we can measure the strength of the string.Further, consider how toxic such growth-­followed-­by-­a-­fall can be to society, as the fall of the dining guest, in response to the fall of the sword of Damocles, will bring what we now call collateral damage, harming others. For instance, the collapse of a large institution will have effects on society.Sophistication, a certain brand of sophistication, also brings fragility to Black Swans: as societies gain in complexity, with more and more “cutting edge” sophistication in them, and more and more specialization, they become increasingly vulnerable to collapse. This idea has been brilliantly—­and convincingly—­adumbrated by the archeologist Joseph Tainter. But it does not have to be so: it is so only for those unwilling to go the extra step and understand the matrix of reality. To counter success, you need a high offsetting dose of robustness, even high doses of antifragility. You want to be Phoenix, or possibly Hydra. Otherwise the sword of Damocles will get you.On the Necessity of NamingWe know more than we think we do, a lot more than we can articulate. If our formal systems of thought denigrate the natural, and in fact we don’t have a name for antifragility, and fight the concept whenever we use our brains, it does not mean that our actions neglect it. Our perceptions and intuitions, as expressed in deeds, can be superior to what we know and tabulate, discuss in words, and teach in a classroom. We will have ample discussions of the point particularly with the potent notion of the apophatic (what cannot be explicitly said, or directly described, in our current vocabulary); so for now, take this curious phenomenon.In Through the Language Glass, the linguist Guy Deutscher reports that many primitive populations, without being color-­blind, have verbal designations for only two or three colors. But when given a simple test, they can successfully match strings to their corresponding colors. They are capable of detecting the differences between the various nuances of the rainbow, but they do not express these in their vocabularies. These populations are culturally, though not biologically, color-­blind.Just as we are intellectually, not organically, antifragility-­blind. To see the difference just consider that you need the name “blue” for the construction of a narrative, but not when you engage in action.It is not well known that many colors we take for granted had no name for a long time, and had no names in the central texts in Western culture. Ancient Mediterranean texts, both Greek and Semitic, also had a reduced vocabulary of a small number of colors polarized around the dark and the light—­Homer and his contemporaries were limited to about three or four main colors: black, white, and some indeterminate part of the rainbow, often subsumed as red, or yellow.I contacted Guy Deutscher. He was extremely generous with his help and pointed out to me that the ancients even lacked words for something as elementary as blue. This absence of the word “blue” in ancient Greek explains the recurring reference by Homer to the “wine-­dark sea” (oinopa ponton), which has been quite puzzling to readers (including this one).

Editorial Reviews

“Ambitious and thought-provoking . . . highly entertaining.”—The Economist   “A bold book explaining how and why we should embrace uncertainty, randomness, and error . . . It may just change our lives.”—Newsweek   “Revelatory . . . [Taleb] pulls the reader along with the logic of a Socrates.”—Chicago Tribune   “Startling . . . richly crammed with insights, stories, fine phrases and intriguing asides . . . I will have to read it again. And again.”—Matt Ridley, The Wall Street Journal   “Trenchant and persuasive . . . Taleb’s insatiable polymathic curiosity knows no bounds. . . . You finish the book feeling braver and uplifted.”—New Statesman   “Antifragility isn’t just sound economic and political doctrine. It’s also the key to a good life.”—Fortune   “At once thought-provoking and brilliant.”—Los Angeles Times“[Taleb] writes as if he were the illegitimate spawn of David Hume and Rev. Bayes, with some DNA mixed in from Norbert Weiner and Laurence Sterne. . . . Taleb is writing original stuff—not only within the management space but for readers of any literature—and . . . you will learn more about more things from this book and be challenged in more ways than by any other book you have read this year. Trust me on this.”—Harvard Business Review“By far my favorite book among several good ones published in 2012. In addition to being an enjoyable and interesting read, Taleb’s new book advances general understanding of how different systems operate, the great variation in how they respond to unthinkables, and how to make them more adaptable and agile. His systemic insights extend very well to company-specific operational issues—from ensuring that mistakes provide a learning process to the importance of ensuring sufficient transparency to the myriad of specific risk issues.”—Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of PIMCO, Bloomberg