the Antifragile individual

Today, while I was looking for a guide to book marketing from Taylor Pearson, I discovered one of his older articles about Antifrgaility.

Antifragile, by Nassim Taleb, is a revelatory read, containing some great heuristics to apply to everyday life. The central thesis is that strong systems, those that will stand the test of time, can not only withstand stresses, but grow stronger though experiencing them. It’s a fantastic book that Iearned a great deal from when I read it.

His explanations are rather more advanced and enlightening than ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ but that is the central fact. The story of the Hydra in Greek mythology is held up as emblematic of Anti-fragility; cut off one head and two shall take its place.

Pearson expands on this theme saying that:

The theory behind Antifragile is that certain things actually benefit from disorder and that as the world grows more complex, it’s those Antifragile things that will benefit.

There’s no doubt that the world is becoming more complex and that comprehensive understanding is proving more difficult. Uncertainty has been a state we’ve existed in for some time now and there are compelling arguments as to why various people want things to remain in flux, largely financially motivated.

Having capital ready to deploy in a time of uncertainty has always been a way for those with means to profit. War has traditionally provided that uncertainty but as war has become increasingly zero sum, we’d all wipe each other out, that uncertainty needs to be found elsewhere. At the moment, that’s in the realm of politics, affecting commerce.I could go on, but I won’t.

Pearson goes on to say that Antifragile people,

‘Accept that most of what they do will fail. Most of what they say, think and believe will be wrong. And yet they keep going – doing, saying , believing, and being wrong […] Antifragile people take failure, criticism and feedback and actually get stronger.’

Athletes are classically Antifragile. Your physical training is a constant test of your fragility, stresses inducing physical improvement, whilst your feedback and review sessions can be brutal, your performance and technique examined, dissected and criticised. Your ability to remain calm in these scenarios and use them as growth opportunities is what separates you from someone equally talented, but mentally weaker than you.

This week has been a test of my own Antifragility as something I was looking forward to is suddenly off the table. It was potentially exciting but, once the disappointment wears off, I‘m hoping to reframe it as a growth opportunity as it’ll push me to innovate and forge my own way forward rather than relying on something else.

If you can’t see criticism and failure and stress as an opportunity for growth then you have no ability to improve.

The loss of this opportunity is an implicit criticism. That’s something to take on the chin, review why it happened and improve as a result. Not to be taken personally. As Ryan Holiday, a proponent of Stoicism has written, ‘the obstacle is the way’.

CareersBen Mercer