In the book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, Taleb describes the difference between being robust (or resilient) and being anti-fragile. He likens the idea of being robust to being the mythological bird, the Phoenix, who, when destroyed, comes back to life. Negative events don’t harm the Phoenix, but it isn’t made stronger by them either.
Taleb describes being antifragile, the idea that one could gain from disorder or adverse events, using another mythological creature, the Hydra, as an example. When you chop off one of the Hydra’s heads, two more grow back in its place. Instead of harming the Hydra, you have only made it more robust. There is every reason to prefer to be antifragile over resilient, but it requires a mindset and a belief system that is all too uncommon.
Your Perception of Adversity
How you respond to adversity is an indicator as to whether you are fragile (harmed or broken by adverse events), robust (not damaged by difficulty, but also not improved by it), or antifragile (in some way enhanced by unfortunate circumstances). Your mindset and belief system determines your perception, and your perception is your reality.
Those who are fragile refuse to find any value in adverse events. Mostly they complain when things don’t go their way, blaming external circumstances or identifying villains with the power to thwart their efforts. You will find the pessimist and the cynic both tend to be fragile, with that mindset being their response to the trials and adversities life brings to each of us, some more than others, and some more often than seems fair.
The resilient do much better than the fragile. The resilient walk away from adverse events unharmed, and without carrying any damage forward with them. Instead of wallowing in their sorrow, they shrug off the negative and adverse events. The robust are quite different from the fragile, not allowing the adverse event to harm their future, leaving the negative in the past, rather than being defined by it.
The antifragile fare best when it comes to negative events and adversity. Instead of being harmed or unharmed, they determine to be strengthened and improved by adversity and serious challenges. Difficult times of crisis, unfortunate circumstances, and severe adversity only improve the antifragile. The mindset of the antifragile is to allow what is challenging to make them better.
Most Negative Events Offer Antifragility
Your perception of events will become your reality. You get to decide what circumstances mean, and you also get to determine whether you derive value from them, whether they are neutral, or whether you define them as harming you. You get to tell the story, interpreting it through any of the three lenses above, fragile, resilient, or antifragile.
You will find this idea in the work of Jocko Willink, the retired officer and Navy Seal, who describes this idea with the word, “Good,” a response to every negative or challenge. I imagine him hearing something like, “Sir, we are surrounded and completely outnumbered,” responding with, “Good. Now we know where they are and how many of them there are.” The ability to respond with “good” is the mindset of the antifragile, finding an immediate benefit in the challenge.
Rebuilding your business on the other side of an extreme economic downturn is rarely easy. In a recessionary economy, you can decide to allow it to harm you or not. You can gain from it by improving your business, observing the lessons it teaches you and being better prepared for the next downturn, and taking advantage of the opportunities that always follow these events.
How to Convert Adversity to Antifragility
To turn negative events and adversity into antifragility, you have to see these things through a lens that allows you to derive value through the lessons that will enable you to improve your position.
Here is a typical and straightforward example. It’s difficult to find value in losing deals or losing clients, yet each can improve you if you are willing to be improved. No lost deal comes without a lesson you can apply to future sales if you are eager to be improved. Being ready to be improved requires you to decide that you were the root cause of the loss, and to change your approach, even though it’s comfortable.
Instead of asking yourself how you were harmed, ask yourself, “What did I learn?” Where you might have wanted to leave an event in the past, ignoring the lesson and improvement available to you, ask, “How does this better prepare me for what comes next?”
The fragile dwell on their loss, and on how they were harmed. They seek to find external causes, absolving themselves of any responsibility for their fate, in what is a downward spiral of negativity that only leads to more of the same.
The antifragile determine to gain from adverse events, taking advantage of the experience, using it to improve themselves and their future success. Like the Hydra, they continue to grow stronger through adversity.