“Fragility implies more to lose than to gain, equals more downside than upside, equals unfavorable asymmetry.”
Hydra demonstrates Antifragility. When one head is cut off, two grow back.
•The Barbell & the Bimodal Strategy
The barbell demonstrates an “antifragile balance,” the idea of two extremes kept separate, with avoidance in the middle.
This represents playing it very safe in some areas (staying robust to negative black swans), and taking a lot of small risks in other areas (open to positive black swans), to take advantage of antifragility. While avoiding being “in the middle.”
If you put 90% of your net worth in cash or T bills, and you use the other 10% for extremely aggressive and risky investments, you can never lose more than 10% of your net worth, but you’re exposed to massive upside.
Or, you can take a very safe day job while you work on your literature. You balance the extreme randomness and riskiness of a writing career with a safe job.
Or, you do a serial barbell, where you have pure action then pure reflection (Seneca, Montaigne).
More examples: “Do crazy things (break furniture once in a while), like the Greeks during the later stages of a drinking symposium, and stay “rational” in larger decisions. Never middlebrow stuff. Talk to either undergraduate students, cab drivers, and gardeners or the highest caliber scholars; never to middling-but-career-conscious academics.
If you dislike someone, leave him alone or eliminate him; don’t attack him verbally.”
•Some Rules for Optionality
-Look for optionality and rank things according to their optionality
-Look for things with open ended, not closed ended, payoffs
-Do not invest in business plans but in people, people who could change careers six or seven times
-Make sure you are barbelled, whatever that means in your business
However, if you’re a midlevel executive employee at some bank, if you punch out an annoying drunk in a bar you will likely get fired, get an arrest record, and be unhirable. You’re extremely fragile.
And then again at the lower end of the spectrum, say as a taxi driver, you have more freedom again because you are not so dependent on your reputation.
He also provides a heuristic: People who don’t seem to care how they dress or look are robust or antifragile. People who have to wear suits and ties and worry about a bad reputation are fragile.
•The Turkey Problem
A bigger theme in The Black Swan, but “the turkey problem” is how you can imagine a turkey raised and fed from birth, becoming more sure every day that it will continue to be well fed and taken care of, based on its past evidence, right up until Thanksgiving.
A donkey equally hungry and thirsty stuck between a bale of hay and water will die of starvation and thirst, unable to make a decision between the two. However, a random nudge in one direction will solve the problem for him. Randomness can help with decision making and becoming unstuck, but when we try to reduce it, we lose that beneficial stressor.
Taleb argues, is hastened by a lack of stress. We are living longer but people are more sick. All of our comfort has been detrimental to our healthspans. We thought aging causes bone degradation, but it seems that bone degradation causes aging.
This can also be applied to competition. The best horses lose when they compete with slower ones, and win against stronger rivals. Absence of challenge can degrade the best of us.
Taleb also points out how many people are being put on antidepressants, and how mood swings are a natural part of the human condition. If someone is truly suicidal, sure, but the ability to wrestle with our dark side is part of life and great inspiration for creatives.
•Via Negativa (by removal)
If you have more than one reason to do something, don’t do it. By invoking more than one reason to do something, you are trying to convince yourself to do it. Obvious decisions (robust to errors) require no more than one good reason.