Nasim Taleb’s most recent book, Anti-Fragile, might not have been a title that made it on to your A-List of books to read this summer for any number of reasons. Not the least of which is that the word “anti-fragile” doesn’t actually exist in the current english lexicon. Cryptic titles aside, the concepts to be found herein can be nothing less than life-changing.
Let’s start with the basics. We all know what the definition of the word “fragile” is, right? I mean you can easily run off a list of objects that contain this quality - that is to say, the quality of being fragile [e.g. a porcelain tea cup, a pane of glass, structures built out of playing cards, etc.]. Now here’s the tricky part. What is the word for the opposite of fragile? ...O.K. that was a trick question, because there is no word in the english language for this concept. Second challenge: can you name objects that have the quality of being the opposite of fragile? Hint: If you’re thinking of things like bricks or bars of iron, you’re on the wrong track.
Let me explain. Something which is fragile is harmed by trauma, disruption or some kind of stressor. Hence we feel relatively comfortable calling a glass that we know will shatter if we should let it fall, fragile. The example most people come up with , when asked to name something that is the opposite of fragile, is a brick. It seems to follow logically that something that maintains it’s integrity even when subjected to stress or trauma. The glass will become hundreds of little shards of glass if you drop it. A brick, on the other hand, after being dropped -assuming it’s dropped from a fairly innocuous 4” to 6”- will still maintain it’s form.
However, a brick is not the opposite of fragile [or anti-fragile]. A brick is strong or robust, not anti-fragile. How do we know? Because a brick comes to no harm whether there is trauma or not. We could even go as far as calling the brick trauma-neutral; it doesn’t care if there is trauma or not. Nor, incidentally, does the brick become necessarily weaker or stronger after a stressor.
Q: So what then is anti-fragile?
A: Anything that actually benefits [or grows stronger] from a stressor like trauma or disruption.
Why is this important to you personally?
So glad you asked. Because the term “anti-fragile” under-girds the better part of your very nature. You can become stronger after the presence or application of stressors. In fact, let me take you one step further. You can actually become weaker due to the absence or lack of adequate stressors.