Are you “antifragile”?

Biran Online Editor

The antifragile gain from disorder, volatility, and other stressors

Reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, is to feel stuck next to him on a long flight. During the journey, you’re confused, intrigued, frustrated, inspired, and uncomfortable. Most significantly, you’re motivated to get back out into the world and apply your hard-earned knowledge…much like our current predicament with COVID-19.

If you have the time and fortitude, Taleb’s book is exceptionally insightful and worth the effort.  For the rest, being antifragile means to gain from disorder, volatility, and other stressors.  By contrast, the fragile wants stability and predictability, and the robust doesn’t care.  The wind extinguishes a fragile candle and enlarges an antifragile wildfire.  A forest which endures periodic fires is more robust than one which hasn’t withstood a fire in centuries. Fragile is bad, robust or resilient is better, antifragile is best.

The philosophy of antifragility complements Aikido, if one appreciates the peace, love, and harmony we aikidoka strive for comes from working through and even seeking conflict, pain, and disorder.  Making the commitment to train. Shaping the body through ukemi, off-mat training, and diet. Practicing techniques until they are instinctive.  Working through injuries.  Maintaining commitment to train when life events and other competing priorities emerge. Assuming leadership roles in the dojo and Aikido community. Perhaps, becoming a teacher, responsible for transmission to new generations and maintaining a dojo. Wherever you might be on your path, consider the following principles Taleb promotes in Antifragile:

If one has nothing to lose, then everything is a gain, making one antifragile.

One’s ability to switch from one course of action to another is an option.  Options allow you to benefit from the positive side of uncertainty without a corresponding serious harm from the negative side. Continuously set conditions which maximize your options, preferably with open-ended, not closed-ended payoffs.  Avoid being “squeezed” – having no choice but to do something, regardless of costs.

When you’re fragile, you depend on minimal deviation and demand predictability – a rarity in our increasingly volatile world. The antifragile need only the wisdom to not do things which might harm themselves and to recognize and seize emerging favorable outcomes. 

Base decisions principally on fragility, not probability. Failure to predict a tsunami or economic meltdown is excusable; building something fragile to them is not.  Natural systems are antifragile thanks to layers of redundancy – high birthrates, extra organs (kidneys, lungs), the ability to store fat or lose tails to a predator…

By tinkering, one incurs lots of small losses at minimal cost to occasionally find something rather significant.  A “loser” or “victim” is one who, after making a mistake or suffering harm, doesn’t reflect and exploit the lesson for gain.

So, which are you? Your dojo? The Birankai community?  More importantly, how are you working to increase antifragility among the people and things you care about?  Biran Online posts in the coming months will meditate on these questions and make suggestions for greater antifragility.  Please email your submissions to

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