Antifragility is a term we use on this site and in our books but not many folk know about it. Here is our definition from our book The agile Manager (small a):
Antifragile is a concept that requires a whole book, (of the same name from Nicholas Taleb), but our summation is that when an antifragile system is stressed, when something “bends” or breaks, it comes back stronger. There are two opposites to fragile: robust and antifragile, which are also opposites of each other. There are two different ways to be not-fragile.
This one statement by Taleb blows conventional thinking wide open: “Robust systems are fragile under [sufficient] stress”. Building robust systems doesn’t make them less fragile. It just lifts the level at which they fail, ensuring the failure is even worse when it comes: they are more fragile.
Put another way, when we are antifragile, failure makes us better. We create a learning culture so that failure is a positive thing, we learn and grow from it. If it hurts, do it more until it doesn’t hurt.
When we have a conventional “robust” mentality instead, we typically respond to failure with more controls, more lockdown, more fear of risk. If it hurts, forbid ever trying it again.
Much of nature is antifragile, and much built by humans is robust.
- When disease sweeps through an animal population, the ones who survive are resistant, so they repopulate stronger.
- When we build a wall to resist wind, we make it strong but eventually the wind is stronger and the wall collapses.
- When a tree lives in a windy spot, it grows stronger as it flexes, and it shapes itself to the wind. Yes, eventually the tree will break, but it will break only a limb first, reducing its wind resistance. Once the trunk fails, that is because the wind exceeded the tree’s ability to be antifragile.
- Building skyscrapers to sway in an earthquake or wind is not the same thing: they don’t become better/stronger from the experience of swaying.
- When a defect passes testing, we add a new test.
- When an operator does something wrong, we add protection or automation.