Antifragile: Stronger through Adversity

11 min. reading time

By now we are in the middle of the 'Corona crisis'. Daily life has been put on hold and we have to wait and see when everything gets going again. The impact is enormous, a strongly shrinking economy, jobs that are suddenly unsure and companies that are in dire straits. What are you doing about it? I immediately thought of the term 'antifragile'.

What is antifragile?

Antifragile is a term that has gained popularity through Nassim Taleb. Antifragile means that something gets stronger through damage and/or setbacks. It is therefore really the opposite of fragile, and much more than just 'robust'. 

Some examples:
- Through training you damage your muscles, which become stronger as a result.
- By regularly exposing yourself to cold, you'll be better able to withstand it.
- By putting your money away in different ways, you don't lose everything at once when things go wrong (or do you take advantage of it).

Very different examples. Antifragile is a term that can be used in many different situations. You can be physically anti-fragile, mentally, but also your company or even relationship can have 'anti-fragile' in it. Where a crisis (such as the current one) makes it stronger.

Ok... but what does that have to do with the current 'crisis'?

Antifragile-Stronger-adversity

Fragility and crisis

Systems that are kept (artificially) stable, and where there is a lot of dependence on other systems, are often fragile. In his book 'Antifragile' Taleb gives numerous examples - especially in the economic field. You could say that our economy has a high degree of fragility. There is a lot of dependency and a system that is strongly linked to the trust of a large group of people. We see it now as well, because of the Coronavirus, the economy is suddenly shrinking sharply and all stock exchanges are in the red, there is little resilience, let alone that the economy is (at the moment) 'getting stronger'. 

You could also say that there is a mental 'fragility' in many people. Excessive worry, pessimism and especially letting one's own state of mind depend on external factors are signs of fragility. Being quickly knocked out of the field by setbacks, but also the excess of burn-outs could be explained by a certain mental fragility. 

How do you become antifragile?

Of course there is no unambiguous answer to this question, but I would like to make a suggestion for two important categories: 

Mental: The Greek stoics seem to be the masters of antifragility. They sought out the misery themselves (in meditations or even in real life). They discovered that looking up what gives you fear makes you stronger. William Irvine writes beautiful books about this! A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy. 

Social: The anti-fragility in social contact is strongly related to the mental. When self-esteem is internal, and therefore not (too) dependent on others, someone is already more resilient.  In the event of setbacks or criticism, you take the relevant information (i.e.: what helps me further) out of the situation, but ignore feedback that is of no use to you. People who work against you are thankful: they are the people who make you more resilient in life and make sure that you are less likely to be upset in the future.

Business: When your income depends on multiple sources, you are better able to withstand a crisis. A taxi driver is more 'anti-fragile' than a bank employee, but also has more 'temporary' uncertainties. You can ask yourself what people always need, crisis or not? How do you stand out from the competition? Or: what form of payment can you use to prevent it suddenly coming to a standstill? The trend whereby your product is a service that is paid for on a monthly basis is a good example of a business that may be more robust. 

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