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Book Summary: Antifragile by Nassim Taleb

My Personal Summary

This book is about things that are antifragile – things that benefit from volatility and disorder.

Book Notes

  • There are three categories of things: fragile – harmed by volatility, robust – unaffected by volatility, antifragile – benefit from volatility.
  • An example of something that is antifragile from Greek mythology is a hydra – a serpent like beast that grows an additiona head whenever you cut one of its heads off. Hydras thrive off violence and chaos.
  • Examples of antifragility in real life: muscles growing back stronger after you work out, trees growing larger after being pruned, immune system growing stronger after exposure to some bacteria.
  • People who dress outrageously are antifragile in reputation – even bad press is good press; those clean-shaven types who dress in suits and ties are fragile to information about them – a nasty rumor can end their career.
  • In a complex system, it’s possible for individuals to be fragile while the collective is antifragile. A prime example is evolution – weak individuals die, but stronger individuals pass on their genes, which makes the collective antifragile – it benefits from variations in both genes and the environment, which are the drivers of evolution.
  • Another example: An economic system is antifragile because most entrepreneurs fail but the whole system learns from their mistakes and sees what does and doesn’t work, which pushes economic growth. In this sense, entrepreneurs (even failed ones) are heroes.
  • Corporate jobs are fragile – you can get a call from the HR department one random day and your income can drop to zero. Artisanal jobs like taxi driving are anti-fragile – your income varies from day to day but is unlikely to ever go to zero out of nowhere.
  • A little bit of chaos and randomness can make a system more antifragile. For example, small forest fire burns clear out the most flammable brush so massive fires can’t occur. Another example: small market drops and corrections can be good because they remove weak businesses and strengthen the overall system as a whole.
  • Most solutions to uncertainty come in the form of barbells – e.g. investing 90% of capital in no-risk things like cash and 10% in highly speculative investments, which means your max downside is 10%.
  • “What I was given to study in school I have forgotten; what I decided to read on my own, I still remember.”
  • Time reveals the antifragility of all things. If something has been around for a long time, there’s a good chance it’s antifragile.

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