In a previous post The Wittgenstein’s Ruler, we discussed the concept of Wittgenstein’s Ruler, as explained by Nassem Nicholas Taleb in his brilliant book Fooled by Randomness. Here, we discuss another amazing term he coined, namely antifragiligy in his book Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder and its implications.
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the meaning of fragile is "easily broken or damaged, very delicate, not strong". Our most common example is at airports where we get a sticker labelled ‘fragile’ pasted on part of the luggage we fear would be easily damaged.
According to Taleb,
Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. 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.
It is difficult to imagine anything that grows stronger with stress but there are examples around us. The most straightforward example one can think of is human body. When stress is introduced in a systematic and recurring way (i.e., exercise), the body becomes stronger and gains from pain. It should be noted that as with everything antifragile, this is true only up to a point.
Faced with extreme adversity, the concept of antifragility can also work in one’s favour. There are two such ways I can imagine.
- The Brute Force Willpower: After a setback, the person with iron determination now has to set bigger targets to achieve those same goals. Since larger goals translate to higher expectations (see the outstanding book The 10x Rule), it can lead to improved work ethic and persistence, and consequently larger output.
- New Doors: Just like a snake and ladder game shown in the figure above, when one falls way down through a snake, they encounter newer paths out of the tunnel (a big ladder, for example) to the same destination which would have never been possible if the disaster of the snake bite had not happened. Quite often, this new look at the problem might result in a faster route to the end goal.
Finding something precious deep down reminds me how Bilbo Baggins found The Magic Ring in The Hobbit. We all have our own kinds of magic rings waiting deep down, which we only discover when the times get worse.