Book Review: “Antifragile – Things That Gain from Disorder” by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a real winner in this book. This is a consummation of all the thoughts and beliefs, including the book “The Black Swan” he authored. I had a review on that book.. There are numerous concepts that Taleb presented which I will not attempt to summarize; I’ll just cover my key learning/takeaways:

My key takeaways:
1. Being anti-fragile means the more you get beaten the better you get. It’s not just being “robust” or “rigorous” but thrive on the punches being thrown at you. It’s an antidote to the “Black Swan” events, like Mother Nature.
2. The strategy of being anti-fragile as applied to your livelihood or survival is to have a barbell strategy – a steady risk-adverse job with consistent income while pursuing a risk-seeking opportunity on the side. I interpret it as having a dual-path income streams: one that pays the bill and another that has a potentially huge upside. I believe this can be applied to your investment portfolio as well.
3. Via Negativa is an interesting chapter about taking things away to increase your anti-fragility.
4. “Never trust the words of a man who is not free.” Trust a mobster (e.g. Meyer Lansky) but not a civil servant (e.g. Lawrence of Arabia).
5. On ethics, “If you see fraud and do not say fraud, you are a fraud.”
6. Fat Tony’s character is rather interesting – he’s an epitome of the author himself. I like his straightforward and take no-prisoner style.
7. Redundancy is a form of anti-fragility; it gives you the option to be opportunistic. Like having extra oil reserve can be profitable during a oil squeeze.
8. Post-traumatic growth may allow a person live up more than his/her potential after subjecting to traumatic stress – like author’s lifting weight and turning into a “bodyguard.”
9. Some criticism (stresser) can be validating your position – it means you’re generating envy from others. A corporation or government may be fragile when they try to “instill” confidence – unlike a book author can generate publicity by making a news, e.g. beating up an economist.
10. What kills me make others stronger – like plane crashes result in better design for all travelers due to the lessons learned in designing a safer product.
11. Evolution like randomness (like random mutations) to a certain point.
12. Organic products tend to be more reliable than the mechanical.
13. Bottom-up governing (like Switzerland) is more anti-fragile than the top-down bureaucracy due to randomness that strengthen the structure. A taxi-cab driver’s income has more variation than a civil servant or bank worker (or a turkey until before the Thanksgiving) but it’s more anti-fragile.
14. Iatrogenics is doing more harm when trying to be helpful like certain medicines and Fed’s policy during 2007 to iron out the “boom-bust cycle,” and etc. Sometimes, procrastination (like seeing a doctor while healthy or for an elective procedure) may be a good thing.
15. Forecasting or trusting the forecast could be downright harmful to the risk-takers.
16. Having the “optionality” (like going to a “drop-in” party, not obligation, or living in a rent-controlled apartment) allows one to be antifragile. In author’s term, option = asymmetry (benefits more than losing) + rationality (keeping what’s good and ditching the bad). “Life is long gamma” = Life benefits from volatility and variability.
17. Author’s dislike of academia is clear throughout the book. He doesn’t believe it fosters innovation and antifragility except for the administrators and the professors themselves.

Overall, this is a real masterpiece. It’s funny and full of ideas that make you think once you get over Taleb’s sense of humor and his abrasiveness. It’s a must read for everyone for his/her career, investment, and how he/she perceives the world and the systems driving it.