What is 'Anti-Fragility'

Anti-fragility is a postulated antithesis to fragility where high-impact events or shocks can be beneficial. Anti-fragility is a concept developed by professor, former trader and former hedge fund manager Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Taleb coined the term "anti-fragility" because he thought the existing words used to describe the opposite of "fragility," such as "robustness," were inaccurate. Anti-fragility goes beyond robustness; it means that something does not merely withstand a shock but actually improves because of it.

BREAKING DOWN 'Anti-Fragility'

For example, he describes an anti-fragile trading strategy as one that does not merely withstand a turbulent market but becomes more appealing under such conditions. Another example he gives is weightlifting, which trains muscles not just to withstand heavy lifting but to develop increased strength as the body repairs the muscle fiber tears. Taleb discusses anti-fragility in his books, "The Black Swan," "Fooled By Randomness" and his 2012 book "Antifragility."

Taleb introduces his book, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, 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 antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better."

Applying Anti-Fragility

The concept of antifragility can be applied to a variety of fields, including physics, risk analysis (which is Taleb's specialty), molecular biology, transportation planning, engineering, Aerospace (NASA), megaproject management and computer science.

The book's central theme purports that we must learn how to make our public and private lives (our political systems, our social policies, our finances, etc.) not merely less vulnerable to randomness and chaos, but actually “antifragile.” By positioning for nonlinear events, we can benefit or take advantage of stress, errors, and change, which are all but certain anyway.

In Mr. Taleb’s view, “We have been fragilizing the economy, our health, political life, education, almost everything” by “suppressing randomness and volatility,” much the way that “systematically preventing forest fires from taking place ‘to be safe’ makes the big one much worse.”

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