By Nassim Taleb
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, investor, philospher, and the widely cited author of the highly influential book, The Black Swan (a term that has since become part of the global lexicon), has a new book out just in time for review here. Taleb, who has presented his insights twice previoiusly at the Highlands Forum (“Risk”, and “Deterrence in a Networked World”) delights in thinking about randomness, uncertainty, and risk. Here he takes these ideas and looks at sytems, oganizations, and lives, remarking on how complex or simple they are—all the better to understand his main idea, resilience or “antifragility”. Taleb describes how systems, organizations, and lives can be seen in terms of their interactions with the forces of change and stress: they are fragile, robust, or antifragile. Fragile systems are most impacted under stress—they break. Robust systems (some argument is offered by critics on robustness or redundance as to whether or not they actually do succeed or thrive in the face of challenge—whether robustness is actually possible or desirable), Taleb maintains, can successfully navigate this space. The key for Taleb is antifragility—resilience—or in popular parlance, “that which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”. As interesting antecedents to Antifragility, he told us in 2008 about robustness and volatility, citing Saudi Arabia as a place where one event makes a big difference; and why he considered New York City to be robust because it always comes back after a crisis (NYC is battle tested and resilient). Nobel laureate Danny Kahneman, whose book Thinking Fast and Slow was reviewed here last year, said of Taleb and his ideas: “Nassim is gradually convincing me that the real world of his describing is very different from the world for which I have been prepared all of my life…I have come to the conclusion that he is right”. We’ll take that as a strong recommendation.