Antifragility

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But in the process of trying to plan every little detail of the future, we add only a modicum of certainty to our outcome at the price of eliminating possibilities that we were never aware of to begin with.

The fox never knows where inspiration will come from in the vast universe that is the Internet. Today it struck me on the New York fashion blog The Stranger. Now if you’re familiar with the fox at all, the thought of me spending my idle time cruising blogs dedicated to the high fashion world may sound laughable, and it should. The fox has never read a fashion blog in his life. (If you’ve seen the fox’s shaggy coat and unkempt tail fur, you know this intuitively.)

But this one actually caught me completely by surprise.

Anti-fragility. That’s not a word me and my fox friends throw around very often. Ok, I’ve never even heard it before, but the author points out that it’s simply the opposite of fragile. Nothing terribly insightful there, right?

Antifragility is the opposite of fragile–this sounds a bit obvious. But in reality, when you ask someone what the opposite of fragility is, they’ll tell you that it’s something that is sturdy, tough, and robust. But think about this on a mathematical plane: if fragility is something that breaks easily under stress, the opposite of fragility is actually something that gets stronger under stress. (Robust is the middle ground.)

Something that is antifragile doesn’t just “not-break” when stressed, it actually becomes stronger.

[Nassim Nicholas Taleb] goes in depth about the prevalence and necessity of antifragility in our lives. Yet we set up systems–centralization, strong government control–that try to evade this, or we spend 3 hours sitting in front of a notebook planning 10 years into our future, because we’re prone to doing everything we can to eliminate uncertainty, risk, and instability in our lives. In the short run, this is comforting, but in the big picture, it is terribly destructive.

The author draws this all back to her outlook on possibilities – the idea that anything is possible in the future because none of us know what the future holds. But in the process of trying to plan every little detail of the future, we add only a modicum of certainty to our outcome at the price of eliminating possibilities that we were never aware of to begin with.

And then there’s this coup d’etat quote from Wired magazine founder and general technology geek Kevin Kelly…

“Great engineers have a respect for breaking things that sometimes surprises nonengineers, just as scientists have a patience with failures that often perplexes outsiders. But the habit of embracing negative results is one of the most essential tricks to gaining success.”

Embracing negative results. That doesn’t play well in ego powered meetings and corporate business culture. But change and strength don’t occur without learning this skill.

Fox Tip: Don’t be afraid of negative results. They are often the first step to positive results.

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