Antifragile: an excellent book on how to live life

Just finished Antifragile by Nassim Taleb. In a word: Brilliant.

I found myself regularly punching the air in silent joy that I’m not alone in the world (although I don’t understand half of what he’s taling about).

His main thesis is that we can find ourselves in one of three states:

  • Fragile (you are exposed to adversity, i.e.: big negative effect)
  • Resilient (you are shielded from adversity, i.e.: no effect)
  • Antifragile (you gain from adversity, i.e.: big positive effect)

These states can be applied to your health, finances and emotional wellbeing. Here’s an example applied to finances:

Fragile = debt

Resilient = all cash

Antifragile = 90% cash, 10% options

These are my main takeaways:

  1. The tourisitification of life

Touristification refers to the tendency of a tourist to stick to a fixed agenda rather than to go with the flow. Taleb argues you should start the journey and see what happens from then. Its difficult following a life filled with uncertainty, but it’s a far richer way of living.

  1. Via negativa

The path to your destiny is not identifying what you love. It’s eliminating what you don’t love. By using the “via negativa” thought process you systematically eliminate the people and things you don’t enjoy until you’re left with your core. That’s how you find happiness.

Someone once asked Michelangelo how he carved the statue David. His reply, “Easy. I started with a block of marble and chipped away everything that was not David.”

  1. Teleological – lecturing birds to fly

Many people (especially academics) believe that their teachings result in the success of students. They create a backward narrative that justifies their work.

Taleb argues that most teachers have no impact. It doesn’t matter how much you lecture baby birds on how to fly, they’re going to fly anyway.

Some other gems:

  1. Economic development leads to education, not the other way round.
  1. Doers are more important than thinkers.
  1. If you need more than one reason you’re lying. The French army would discipline soldiers if they had more than one reason for absenteeism.
  1. Never buy anything advertised. If it has to be advertised, it’s not the best.
  1. Don’t use doctors. The incentives to over-medicate are too strong. The medical profession should only be resorted to in times of dire emergency.

His conclusion is that life is about taking risks and taking risks is about having courage.

If you take risks and you face your fate with dignity there is nothing you can do that is not small. If you do not take risks there is nothing you can do that will make you grand.

If you can eliminate fear you can become antifragile.

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