Antifragile 2


Part 2 of reviewing Nassim Taleb’s masterwork, Antifragile, has to look at some of his insights into embracing failure itself.

He explores the subject on a personal and almost philosophical level…

  • “Provided we have the right type of rigor, we need randomness, mess, adventures, uncertainty, self-discovery, near-traumatic episodes, all these things that make life worth living.”
  • Nature loves small error (without which genetic variations are impossible), humans don’t – hence when you rely on human judgement you are at the mercy of a mental bias that disfavours antifragility.”
  • “My son, I am very disappointed in you. I never hear anything wrong about you. You have proven yourself incapable of generating envy.” [in response to a popular child that no one picks on]
  • Poverty makes experience.” – Publilius Syrus
  • “He who has never sinned is less reliable than he who has sinned once.”
  • There is no such thing as a failed solider, dead or alive (unless he acted in a cowardly manner) – likewise, there is no such thing as a failed entrepreneur or failed scientific researcher, any more than there is a successful babbler, philophaster, commentator, consultant, lobbyist, or business school professor who does not take personal risks.”
  • “A Latin saying that sophistication is born out of hunger (artificial docuit fames). The idea pervades classical literature: in Ovid, difficulty is what wakes up the genius (ingenium mala saepe movent).”


…as well as on a more professional and business level…

  • Firms become very weak during long periods of steady prosperity devoid of setbacks, and hidden vulnerabilities accumulate silently under the surface – so delaying crises is not a very good idea.”
  • “When some systems are stuck in a dangerous impasse, randomness and only randomness can unlock them and set them free…by a mechanism called stochastic resonance, adding random noise to the background makes you hear the sounds (say music) with more accuracy.”
  • “Not seeing a tsunami or an economic event coming is excusable; building something fragile to them is not…Focus on exposure to failure – making the prediction or nonprediction of failure quite irrelevant.”
  • In a system, the sacrifice of some units, that is, or people – are often necessary for the well-being of the other units or the whole. The fragility of every start-up is necessary for the economy to be antifragile, and that’s what makes, among other things, entrepreneurship work: the fragility of individual entrepreneurs and their necessarily high failure rate,”
  • “The engineer and historian of engineering Henry Petrovski presents a very elegant point. Had the Titanic not had that famous accident, as fatal as it was, we would have kept building larger and larger ocean liners and the next disaster would have been even more tragic.’”
  • “With bailouts, governments typically favour a certain class of firms that are large enough to require being saved in order to avoid contagion to other business. This is the opposite of healthy risk-taking; it is transferring fragility from the collective to the unfit.”