Conversations on Antifragility: Practice Beyond the Rhetoric!

In Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (2012), Nassim Nicholas Taleb (@nntaleb) introduced Antifragility.

Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it antifragile.

First, Taleb distinguishes between the fragile, robust, and antifragile (the Triad):

the fragile wants tranquility, the antifragile grows from disorder, and the robust doesn’t care too much.

Next, Taleb advances that

by grasping the mechanisms of antifragility we can build a systematic and broad guide to non-predictive decision making under uncertainty in business, politics, medicine, and life in general.

As the world continues to become increasingly interconnected and interdependent, Black Swans — large-scale unpredictable and irregular events of massive consequence — are necessarily becoming more prominent, where it is far more reasonable to figure out if something is fragile than to calculate the risks and probabilities of rare events!

As a result of the proliferation of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA), non-predictive decision making (within the context of observing, orienting, deciding, and acting (OODA)) is quintessential!

Theory and Practice

Albert Einstein emphasized the distinction between theory and practice:

In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.

William Edwards Deming emphasized the importance of theory:

Experience by itself teaches nothing . . . Without theory, experience has no meaning. Without theory, one has no questions to ask. Hence, without theory, there is no learning.

And Taleb emphasizes the secrets only practice can reveal:

For a theory is a very dangerous thing to have. And of course one can rigorously do science without it. What scientists call phenomenology is the observation of an empirical regularity without a visible theory for it. In the Triad, I put theories in the fragile category, phenomenology in the robust one. Theories are superfragile; they come and go, then come and go, then come and go again; phenomenologies stay, and I can’t believe people don’t realize that phenomenology is “robust” and usable, and theories, while overhyped, are unreliable for decision making — — outside physics.

The key is that the significant can only be revealed through practice.

No, we don’t put theories into practice. We create theories out of practice.

It is just that things that are implemented tend to want to be born from practice, not theory.

There are secrets to our world that only practice can reveal, and no opinion or analysis will ever capture in full. This secret property is, of course, revealed through time, and, thankfully, only through time.

Thus, practice beyond the rhetoric!

Antifragility Conversations

Throughout 2015, Barry Bettman (@barrybettman) and Si Alhir (@SAlhir) hosted various conversation panels focused on exploring the practice of antifragility (that is, Practice Beyond the Rhetoric) through the following questions:

  • How have you interpreted Taleb’s concept of Antifragility?

All the events / conversations are available here (Audio).

Event #1 (March 18, 2015): Europe Group

Event #1 (March 18, 2015): North America Group

Event #2 (May 6, 2015)

Event #3 (June 30, 2015)

Event #4 (August 19, 2015): Life Lessons from Artists

Event #5 (August 26, 2015): Enterprise (Business and Technology) Architecture

Event #6 (September 2, 2015): The Science of Successful Organizational Change

Event #7 (September 9, 2015): Viral Change

Event #8 (September 30, 2015)

Event #9 (October 7, 2015): Social Business & Digital Transformation

Event #10 (November 4, 2015): Sun Tzu’s Art of War

The Antifragility Edge: Antifragility in Pracitce

Much of Si Alhir’s (@SAlhir) experience and work has been captured in The Antifragility Edge: Antifragility in Practice.

All thoughts are welcome . . .

Note: This was originally blogged on http://salhir.wordpress.com.