What Is Antifragility? Antifragility In A Nutshell

Antifragility was first coined as a term by author, and options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragility is a characteristic of systems that thrive as a result of stressors, volatility, and randomness. Therefore, Antifragile is the opposite of fragile. Where a fragile thing breaks up to volatility; a robust thing resists volatility. An antifragile thing gets stronger from volatility (provided the level of stressors and randomness doesn’t pass a certain threshold).

Understanding antifragility

In his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, Taleb described antifragility as follows:

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 anti-fragile. Anti-fragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the anti-fragile gets better.

Taleb suggests human society be made antifragile so it can benefit from black swan events.

These events, which are unpredictable and can have severe consequences, are traditionally managed by suppressing randomness, chaos, and volatility.

While black swan events are impossible to predict, Taleb argues that a better strategy is to accept their inevitability and take advantage of the disorder that ensues.

Indeed, Taleb’s antifragility strategy thrives during black swan events because it assumes there is more to gain than there is to lose.

Conversely, the fragility strategy where randomness is suppressed perishes during a black swan event because it assumes there is more to lose than there is to gain.

The concept of antifragility can be applied to almost any industry, including transportation planning, physical fitness, aerospace engineering, project management, risk analysis, and computer science.

For the individual, antifragility helps them navigate a world full of random and unpredictable stressors intent on altering their life trajectory. 

One of the best examples of fragility in action can be seen in fire management, where the systematic prevention of forest fires under the guise of safety makes an evitable fire outbreak much more catastrophic.

Another example is the immune system of the human body, which needs regular contact with pathogens to be capable of defending the body during a serious infection.

If the immune system does not interact with pathogens early in life, it can become hypersensitive, react with sometimes harmless substances, and cause chronic allergies.

The Black Swan Effect

In a commencement speech at the American University of Beirut, Black Swan’s author, Nicholas Nassim Taleb, used a precise definition of success. Rather than a set of rules to follow, Taleb uses a simple heuristic:

You look in the mirror every evening, and wonder if you disappoint the person you were at 18, right before the age when people start getting corrupted by life. Let him or her be the only judge; not your reputation, not your wealth, not your standing in the community, not the decorations on your lapel. If you do not feel ashamed, you are successful. All other definitions of success are modern constructions; fragile modern constructions.

Taleb’s definition of success is based on the idea of “antifragility,” a term he coined.

The novelty of Taleb’s way of thinking is based on what I like to define as “the black swan mindset.”

What does that mean?

According to Taleb, the world can get divided into three categories. It is fragile, robust, and antifragile.

These three groups exist in any domain.

What is the difference between the three? Let me introduce you to three characters: Mr. Fragilista, Mr. Robusto, and Mr. Stoico. 

The Three Characters 

Mr. Fragilista is a thriving academic.

He devoted his life to formulating economic theories. Yet he never tested them in the real world.

He spends his days lost in thought. Anything he sees is an opportunity to draw conclusions and create new world models.

He is a strong supporter of the efficient market hypothesis, and anywhere he goes, he brings a bunch of newspapers that give him the impression of having a deep understanding of the economy, political system, and society.

Mr. Fragilista is highly rational, and he blindly believes in science.

He thinks that the world works linearly, and he developed a consistent model to find patterns anywhere.

In fact, he dispels advice to anyone. From investors to politicians, he has a say about anything.

He doesn’t care about money but only about recognition.

The worst thing that could ever happen to him in life is hearing anyone saying to him, “you are wrong.”

When this happens, Mr. Fragilista gets somewhat aggressive in public but extremely depressed in private.

Mr. Robusto is a stock investor

He is incredibly smart. Even though he only has a diploma, he learned to value stocks early.

He is now a millionaire. His capital is all invested, as he believes that the key to eliminating risk is diversification.

From a low-income family, Mr. Robusto became obsessed with wealth at a very young age.

He enjoys sophisticated food, such as caviar, accompanied by Champaign, even though he only learned to like them recently, and now he cannot live without them.

To be part of the establishment, Mr. Robusto built relationships with aristocrats.

To feel accepted, he became part of an exclusive club that, although it costs him several thousand per month, makes him feel important. Mr. Robusto has gone through many crises in his life, and this created unshakable optimism.

There will be no event able to break him. He believes that financial markets are not efficient, yet he feels safe investing in stocks. In fact, he likes to invest in large companies, which according to Mr. Robusto, are “too big to fail.”

Mr. Stoico is a former options trader

Since childhood, he didn’t show particular intelligence.

On the other hand, he strived to understand the real world as much as possible. He didn’t like theoretical finance or sophisticated financial models.

Yet his thirst for understanding real-world problems made him become an expert in probability theory and applied mathematics. Mr. Stoico never liked sophisticated food or people. He gets along with ordinary people.

He often makes friends with the cab drivers and the doormen. Mr. Stoico believes that the world is too complicated to fit in a model.

Also, he thinks that reality often tricks us. For such reason, he studies the most advanced psychological advancement related to human biases.

He knows for a fact that people often see causality where there is only randomness.

Based on that, he doesn’t like stocks.

Therefore, he invested 90% of his money in Treasury Bonds while he used the remaining to speculate on rare events through options.

The Montecarlo Simulator Test

We don’t live in a deterministic world. In short, the past becomes predictable only after it unravels.

And the ones that are tricked into believing that things were supposed to happen that way did fall into an insidious trap called “hindsight bias.”

Hindsight bias is the tendency for people to perceive past events as more predictable than they actually were. The result of a presidential election, for example, seems more obvious when the winner is announced. The same can also be said for the avid sports fan who predicted the correct outcome of a match regardless of whether their team won or lost. Hindsight bias, therefore, is the tendency for an individual to convince themselves that they accurately predicted an event before it happened.

How can we avoid this trap?

We have to live our reality like we would in a Montecarlo Simulator.

What is that? It is a tool that allows us to see all the possible outcomes once a set of variables is considered.

Take, for instance, this example: we have two individuals, both flipping a coin but with a different degree of probability of succeeding.

In fact, person A has a 51% chance of winning, while person B has a %49 chance. What does it mean? It means that at each turn, if we flip a coin, Person A will win 51 times out of 100, while Person B will win 49 times out of 100.

This is not a sure thing in the short term. For instance, we make them bet 100 times.

It may happen that person B will do slightly better compared to person A. Why does it happen? This is due to the law of small numbers. In short, probability tells us how the world works in the long run.

In this scenario, we may be tricked into thinking that person B has a better strategy compared to person A. Yet, person B is doing well out of pure luck!

If we change the scenario and make them bet 10,000, the incredible will happen. In this case, person B would be inevitably broke, while person A would be doing exceptionally well.

Why? This is due to the law of large numbers.

In short, in the real world, we tend to judge people based on their success. Their success may be due to pure luck.

Therefore, we fall into the so-called “survivorship bias.” To avoid that, we must think like a Montecarlo Simulator and ask, “In other parallel worlds, how many chances of success would that person have?”

If, in most of the worlds, that person is not successful as he is in the “real world,” we must deem that person extremely lucky.

If we run this simulation in our heads throughout the day, we will discover a new incredible reality.

Things don’t seem as confident and concatenated as they appeared before.

Who Will Survive?

Going back to our three characters. Who do you think will survive in a Montecarlo Simulation?

Well, the chances are that Mr. Stoico will be the one who thrives. Why? He is antifragile.

In short, if we take Mr, Stoico and place him under the Montecarlo test, he will come out intact if not satisfied in most of the cases.

While the other two characters will easily blow up in the long run.

Now you can understand the antifragility triad.

The antifragility triad

To explain the difference between fragility, robustness, and antifragility, Taleb used the example of three ancient myths:

  1. Fragility – Damocles is fragile because his life depends on a thin hair that holds a sword above his head. The slightest weakness in the hair means the sword will kill him.
  2. Robustness – Phoenix is robust because whenever he dies, he arises from the ashes and returns to the same state. Stressors do not harm him, but he does not benefit or grow from them either.
  3. Hydra – whenever one of Hydra’s many heads is cut off, two new heads grow back in its place. Hydra is more than robust because she grows stronger as a result of stressors. She is antifragile.

Principles for leading an antifragile life

As you might have guessed, an antifragile way of life involves finding ways to benefit from the chaos and disorder we will inevitably experience. 

Generally speaking, individuals who embrace antifragile principles are playing the long game.

They do not optimize for today or tomorrow, sacrificing short-term efficiency for long-term antifragility.

To achieve this, they engage in second-order thinking where the consequences of their decisions are analyzed for their future impact.

Here are ten simple principles for leading an antifragile life:

  1. Adhere to simple rules and procedures.
  2. Ensure contingency plans are in place so that no single failure can ever be catastrophic. 
  3. Resist the urge to suppress randomness. 
  4. Keep your options open.
  5. Look for traditional habits and rules that have been effective for a long time.
  6. Focus on avoiding what doesn’t work rather than trying to discover what does work.
  7. Take lots of small risks through experimentation.
  8. Avoid becoming consumed or preoccupied with data.
  9. Ensure you have your soul in the game.
  10. Avoid taking risks with potentially significant negative repercussions. 

Key takeaways:

  • Antifragility is a characteristic of systems that thrive as a result of stressors, volatility, mistakes, attacks, or failures. The concept was explained in detail by author Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder.
  • Antifragility argues that since random and chaotic events are inevitable, society may as well position itself to profit from them. This notion contrasts with traditional approaches that favor risk management and the mitigation of negative impacts.
  • Leading an antifragile life means sacrificing some degree of short-term efficiency for long-term antifragility. Considering the second-order consequences of decisions is one way to embody this mindset. Other helpful principles include taking small risks through experimentation, resisting the urge to suppress randomness, and ensuring contingency plans are in place to avoid catastrophic failure.

Connected Thinking Frameworks

Convergent vs. Divergent Thinking

Convergent thinking occurs when the solution to a problem can be found by applying established rules and logical reasoning. Whereas divergent thinking is an unstructured problem-solving method where participants are encouraged to develop many innovative ideas or solutions to a given problem. Where convergent thinking might work for larger, mature organizations where divergent thinking is more suited for startups and innovative companies.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking involves analyzing observations, facts, evidence, and arguments to form a judgment about what someone reads, hears, says, or writes.


The concept of cognitive biases was introduced and popularized by the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman in 1972. Biases are seen as systematic errors and flaws that make humans deviate from the standards of rationality, thus making us inept at making good decisions under uncertainty.

Second-Order Thinking

Second-order thinking is a means of assessing the implications of our decisions by considering future consequences. Second-order thinking is a mental model that considers all future possibilities. It encourages individuals to think outside of the box so that they can prepare for every and eventuality. It also discourages the tendency for individuals to default to the most obvious choice.

Lateral Thinking

Lateral thinking is a business strategy that involves approaching a problem from a different direction. The strategy attempts to remove traditionally formulaic and routine approaches to problem-solving by advocating creative thinking, therefore finding unconventional ways to solve a known problem. This sort of non-linear approach to problem-solving, can at times, create a big impact.

Bounded Rationality

Bounded rationality is a concept attributed to Herbert Simon, an economist and political scientist interested in decision-making and how we make decisions in the real world. In fact, he believed that rather than optimizing (which was the mainstream view in the past decades) humans follow what he called satisficing.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias where people with low ability in a task overestimate their ability to perform that task well. Consumers or businesses that do not possess the requisite knowledge make bad decisions. What’s more, knowledge gaps prevent the person or business from seeing their mistakes.

Occam’s Razor

Occam’s Razor states that one should not increase (beyond reason) the number of entities required to explain anything. All things being equal, the simplest solution is often the best one. The principle is attributed to 14th-century English theologian William of Ockham.

Lindy Effect

The Lindy Effect is a theory about the ageing of non-perishable things, like technology or ideas. Popularized by author Nicholas Nassim Taleb, the Lindy Effect states that non-perishable things like technology age – linearly – in reverse. Therefore, the older an idea or a technology, the same will be its life expectancy.


Antifragility was first coined as a term by author, and options trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Antifragility is a characteristic of systems that thrive as a result of stressors, volatility, and randomness. Therefore, Antifragile is the opposite of fragile. Where a fragile thing breaks up to volatility; a robust thing resists volatility. An antifragile thing gets stronger from volatility (provided the level of stressors and randomness doesn’t pass a certain threshold).


Ergodicity is one of the most important concepts in statistics. Ergodicity is a mathematical concept suggesting that a point of a moving system will eventually visit all parts of the space the system moves in. On the opposite side, non-ergodic means that a system doesn’t visit all the possible parts, as there are absorbing barriers

Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is a holistic means of investigating the factors and interactions that could contribute to a potential outcome. It is about thinking non-linearly, and understanding the second-order consequences of actions and input into the system.

Vertical Thinking

Vertical thinking, on the other hand, is a problem-solving approach that favors a selective, analytical, structured, and sequential mindset. The focus of vertical thinking is to arrive at a reasoned, defined solution.

Metaphorical Thinking

Metaphorical thinking describes a mental process in which comparisons are made between qualities of objects usually considered to be separate classifications.  Metaphorical thinking is a mental process connecting two different universes of meaning and is the result of the mind looking for similarities.

Maslow’s Hammer

Maslow’s Hammer, otherwise known as the law of the instrument or the Einstellung effect, is a cognitive bias causing an over-reliance on a familiar tool. This can be expressed as the tendency to overuse a known tool (perhaps a hammer) to solve issues that might require a different tool. This problem is persistent in the business world where perhaps known tools or frameworks might be used in the wrong context (like business plans used as planning tools instead of only investors’ pitches).

Peter Principle

The Peter Principle was first described by Canadian sociologist Lawrence J. Peter in his 1969 book The Peter Principle. The Peter Principle states that people are continually promoted within an organization until they reach their level of incompetence.

Straw Man Fallacy

The straw man fallacy describes an argument that misrepresents an opponent’s stance to make rebuttal more convenient. The straw man fallacy is a type of informal logical fallacy, defined as a flaw in the structure of an argument that renders it invalid.

Google Effect

The Google effect is a tendency for individuals to forget information that is readily available through search engines. During the Google effect – sometimes called digital amnesia – individuals have an excessive reliance on digital information as a form of memory recall.

Streisand Effect

The Streisand Effect is a paradoxical phenomenon where the act of suppressing information to reduce visibility causes it to become more visible. In 2003, Streisand attempted to suppress aerial photographs of her Californian home by suing photographer Kenneth Adelman for an invasion of privacy. Adelman, who Streisand assumed was paparazzi, was instead taking photographs to document and study coastal erosion. In her quest for more privacy, Streisand’s efforts had the opposite effect.

Compromise Effect

Single-attribute choices – such as choosing the apartment with the lowest rent – are relatively simple. However, most of the decisions consumers make are based on multiple attributes which complicate the decision-making process. The compromise effect states that a consumer is more likely to choose the middle option of a set of products over more extreme options.

Butterfly Effect

In business, the butterfly effect describes the phenomenon where the simplest actions yield the largest rewards. The butterfly effect was coined by meteorologist Edward Lorenz in 1960 and as a result, it is most often associated with weather in pop culture. Lorenz noted that the small action of a butterfly fluttering its wings had the potential to cause progressively larger actions resulting in a typhoon.

IKEA Effect

The IKEA effect is a cognitive bias that describes consumers’ tendency to value something more if they have made it themselves. That is why brands often use the IKEA effect to have customizations for final products, as they help the consumer relate to it more and therefore appending to it more value.

Ringelmann Effect 

Ringelmann Effect
The Ringelmann effect describes the tendency for individuals within a group to become less productive as the group size increases.

The Overview Effect

The overview effect is a cognitive shift reported by some astronauts when they look back at the Earth from space. The shift occurs because of the impressive visual spectacle of the Earth and tends to be characterized by a state of awe and increased self-transcendence.

House Money Effect

The house money effect was first described by researchers Richard Thaler and Eric Johnson in a 1990 study entitled Gambling with the House Money and Trying to Break Even: The Effects of Prior Outcomes on Risky Choice. The house money effect is a cognitive bias where investors take higher risks on reinvested capital than they would on an initial investment.


As highlighted by German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer in the paper “Heuristic Decision Making,” the term heuristic is of Greek origin, meaning “serving to find out or discover.” More precisely, a heuristic is a fast and accurate way to make decisions in the real world, which is driven by uncertainty.

Recognition Heuristic

The recognition heuristic is a psychological model of judgment and decision making. It is part of a suite of simple and economical heuristics proposed by psychologists Daniel Goldstein and Gerd Gigerenzer. The recognition heuristic argues that inferences are made about an object based on whether it is recognized or not.

Representativeness Heuristic

The representativeness heuristic was first described by psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. The representativeness heuristic judges the probability of an event according to the degree to which that event resembles a broader class. When queried, most will choose the first option because the description of John matches the stereotype we may hold for an archaeologist.

Take-The-Best Heuristic

The take-the-best heuristic is a decision-making shortcut that helps an individual choose between several alternatives. The take-the-best (TTB) heuristic decides between two or more alternatives based on a single good attribute, otherwise known as a cue. In the process, less desirable attributes are ignored.

Bundling Bias

The bundling bias is a cognitive bias in e-commerce where a consumer tends not to use all of the products bought as a group, or bundle. Bundling occurs when individual products or services are sold together as a bundle. Common examples are tickets and experiences. The bundling bias dictates that consumers are less likely to use each item in the bundle. This means that the value of the bundle and indeed the value of each item in the bundle is decreased.

Barnum Effect

The Barnum Effect is a cognitive bias where individuals believe that generic information – which applies to most people – is specifically tailored for themselves.

Anchoring Effect

The anchoring effect describes the human tendency to rely on an initial piece of information (the “anchor”) to make subsequent judgments or decisions. Price anchoring, then, is the process of establishing a price point that customers can reference when making a buying decision.

Decoy Effect

The decoy effect is a psychological phenomenon where inferior – or decoy – options influence consumer preferences. Businesses use the decoy effect to nudge potential customers toward the desired target product. The decoy effect is staged by placing a competitor product and a decoy product, which is primarily used to nudge the customer toward the target product.

Commitment Bias

Commitment bias describes the tendency of an individual to remain committed to past behaviors – even if they result in undesirable outcomes. The bias is particularly pronounced when such behaviors are performed publicly. Commitment bias is also known as escalation of commitment.

First-Principles Thinking

First-principles thinking – sometimes called reasoning from first principles – is used to reverse-engineer complex problems and encourage creativity. It involves breaking down problems into basic elements and reassembling them from the ground up. Elon Musk is among the strongest proponents of this way of thinking.

Ladder Of Inference

The ladder of inference is a conscious or subconscious thinking process where an individual moves from a fact to a decision or action. The ladder of inference was created by academic Chris Argyris to illustrate how people form and then use mental models to make decisions.

Goodhart’s Law

Goodhart’s Law is named after British monetary policy theorist and economist Charles Goodhart. Speaking at a conference in Sydney in 1975, Goodhart said that “any observed statistical regularity will tend to collapse once pressure is placed upon it for control purposes.” Goodhart’s Law states that when a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.

Six Thinking Hats Model

The Six Thinking Hats model was created by psychologist Edward de Bono in 1986, who noted that personality type was a key driver of how people approached problem-solving. For example, optimists view situations differently from pessimists. Analytical individuals may generate ideas that a more emotional person would not, and vice versa.

Mandela Effect

The Mandela effect is a phenomenon where a large group of people remembers an event differently from how it occurred. The Mandela effect was first described in relation to Fiona Broome, who believed that former South African President Nelson Mandela died in prison during the 1980s. While Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and died 23 years later, Broome remembered news coverage of his death in prison and even a speech from his widow. Of course, neither event occurred in reality. But Broome was later to discover that she was not the only one with the same recollection of events.

Crowding-Out Effect

The crowding-out effect occurs when public sector spending reduces spending in the private sector.

Bandwagon Effect

The bandwagon effect tells us that the more a belief or idea has been adopted by more people within a group, the more the individual adoption of that idea might increase within the same group. This is the psychological effect that leads to herd mentality. What in marketing can be associated with social proof.

Moore’s Law

Moore’s law states that the number of transistors on a microchip doubles approximately every two years. This observation was made by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965 and it become a guiding principle for the semiconductor industry and has had far-reaching implications for technology as a whole.

Disruptive Innovation

Disruptive innovation as a term was first described by Clayton M. Christensen, an American academic and business consultant whom The Economist called “the most influential management thinker of his time.” Disruptive innovation describes the process by which a product or service takes hold at the bottom of a market and eventually displaces established competitors, products, firms, or alliances.

Value Migration

Value migration was first described by author Adrian Slywotzky in his 1996 book Value Migration – How to Think Several Moves Ahead of the Competition. Value migration is the transferal of value-creating forces from outdated business models to something better able to satisfy consumer demands.

Bye-Now Effect

The bye-now effect describes the tendency for consumers to think of the word “buy” when they read the word “bye”. In a study that tracked diners at a name-your-own-price restaurant, each diner was asked to read one of two phrases before ordering their meal. The first phrase, “so long”, resulted in diners paying an average of $32 per meal. But when diners recited the phrase “bye bye” before ordering, the average price per meal rose to $45.


Groupthink occurs when well-intentioned individuals make non-optimal or irrational decisions based on a belief that dissent is impossible or on a motivation to conform. Groupthink occurs when members of a group reach a consensus without critical reasoning or evaluation of the alternatives and their consequences.


A stereotype is a fixed and over-generalized belief about a particular group or class of people. These beliefs are based on the false assumption that certain characteristics are common to every individual residing in that group. Many stereotypes have a long and sometimes controversial history and are a direct consequence of various political, social, or economic events. Stereotyping is the process of making assumptions about a person or group of people based on various attributes, including gender, race, religion, or physical traits.

Murphy’s Law

Murphy’s Law states that if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Murphy’s Law was named after aerospace engineer Edward A. Murphy. During his time working at Edwards Air Force Base in 1949, Murphy cursed a technician who had improperly wired an electrical component and said, “If there is any way to do it wrong, he’ll find it.”

Law of Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences was first mentioned by British philosopher John Locke when writing to parliament about the unintended effects of interest rate rises. However, it was popularized in 1936 by American sociologist Robert K. Merton who looked at unexpected, unanticipated, and unintended consequences and their impact on society.

Fundamental Attribution Error

Fundamental attribution error is a bias people display when judging the behavior of others. The tendency is to over-emphasize personal characteristics and under-emphasize environmental and situational factors.

Outcome Bias

Outcome bias describes a tendency to evaluate a decision based on its outcome and not on the process by which the decision was reached. In other words, the quality of a decision is only determined once the outcome is known. Outcome bias occurs when a decision is based on the outcome of previous events without regard for how those events developed.

Hindsight Bias

Hindsight bias is the tendency for people to perceive past events as more predictable than they actually were. The result of a presidential election, for example, seems more obvious when the winner is announced. The same can also be said for the avid sports fan who predicted the correct outcome of a match regardless of whether their team won or lost. Hindsight bias, therefore, is the tendency for an individual to convince themselves that they accurately predicted an event before it happened.

Read Next: BiasesBounded RationalityMandela EffectDunning-Kruger EffectLindy EffectCrowding Out EffectBandwagon Effect.

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