Antifragile: Should You Aspire to It?

November 3, 2022


Dr Sven Hansen

Nassim Nicholas Taleb coined the term Antifragile in his book by that name in 2012. The term has gained in popularity, and mathematics is esoteric.

In short, antifragile is the ability to improve function or capability in the face of adversity—stressors, shocks, volatility, noise, mistakes, faults, attacks or failures. For example, we found that resilience ratios increased rapidly just after Covid-19. Post-traumatic growth is expected as a normal response to adversity.

Defining antifragility

Taleb defined four terms:

Fragile as a system that breaks or fails in adversity

Robust as a system that resists failure and tolerates high levels of distress

Resilient as a system that can recover or adapt from failure

Antifragile as a system that capitalises on adversity and chaos

Whilst the concept is applied in risk, physics, biology, planning, engineering, aerospace and computer science, we explore it here as a human dimension. Our diagnostic measures 60 human factors to create a Resilience Ratio. Here is a 2022 sample of 6,567 people with an average ratio of 1.66.

Would it be reasonable to apply these terms to human beings? Using our resilience ratio, we have grouped the distribution of these pre-training participants. Only 3% are Antifragile, 24% are Resilient, 60% are Robust, and 13% are Fragile. Remember that the sample is from functioning senior staff at work.

Measuring antifragility

What does it mean to be human in each category? The Fragile people are at risk of failure—mental, emotional or physical. They are struggling in their lives and work. The Robust people can resist failure but feel strain and distress. The Resilient people are succeeding in life and work (we have a broader definition of resilience than Taleb).

The Antifragile category are those who are thriving and playful in life and work. Their support systems are in place, their lives have rhythm and their work is fulfilling—yet it is only 3% of this sample.

Can resilience training support antifragility?

After training, we see a marked improvement. Here is a 2022 sample of 2,297 people who have done our resilience training and completed a post-assessment. The average resilience ratio is 2.05—a 23.5% improvement.

Post-training, the Fragile group is down from 13 to 6%, and the Antifragile group has increased fourfold to 13%. During the first three quarters of 2022, we have tested on multiple fronts, and we still see these improvements.

What do we know about antifragile people?

Antifragile is not genetic nor an innate trait. It arises from a set of skills that can be learned and applied in life. Our 2022 Research showed clearly that the top 10% of our sample of 23,990 people prioritise sleep quality, fulfilment, bounce, relaxation and focus. They also minimise worry, rumination, fatigue, anxiety and apathy.

Being Antifragile is not for everyone. It demands daily discipline. The rewards, as Taleb has explained, can be massive. In our volatile times, disruption is inevitable. It is not a good time to be fragile or robust.

Those who train to be antifragile will reap the rewards.

While practising daily discipline, it is also important not to forget self-compassion. When trying to become the best version of ourselves, self-coaching can help us succeed. We share some practical tips on achieving that in our article on self-critical thoughts.

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