Skip to content

Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. By Nassim Nicholas Taleb; Random House;; 544 pages; $30.

Why do some systems, objects, or ideas fail when faced with stress while others not only withstand it, but actually grow or profit from the experience? Fragile things break when stressed; robust or resilient things withstand stress; and, according to author Nassim Taleb, an entirely different class that he terms anti­fragile actually improves when stressed. Think of the myth­ological Hydra that grew two heads each time one was cut off. Think of the musculoskeletal system, which responds to weight training by adjusting for a higher level of stress. Think of a political revolution which, if suppressed, intensifies.

Readers may draw parallels to Nietz­sche’s “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger,” but Taleb goes one step further to say that Nietzsche is simply laying the groundwork for robustness and that we should actually strive for a standard beyond simple resiliency, employing such qualities as redundancy, overcompensation, and efficiency.

This philosophical book is packed with a fantastic collection of heuristics—simple, practical, easy-to-apply rules of thumb for managing what life throws at you. While graphs and algebraic equations attempt to measure fragility, Taleb keeps the reader’s attention with stories and humor.

From a security management perspective, it’s a strong reminder that, while we can never predict the next major loss event, we must always prepare for more than the most likely worst-case scenario. Taleb reminds readers that the Fukushima nuclear reactor was tested to withstand the greatest earthquake imaginable at the time, yet it failed when a quake that was not imagined occurred.

The author challenges conventional wisdom on numerous fronts and will inspire security professionals to evaluate their personal positions on numerous security topics as well as the security postures of their institutions. While not written specifically for a security audience, it has immediate, commonsense applications that can positively change the reader’s outlook and improve the industry.

Reviewer: Special Agent Erik Antons, CPP, PSP, serves in the Diplomatic Security Service, U.S. Department of State, currently in Argentina. He is a member of the ASIS Global Terrorism, Political Instability and International Crime Council.