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What’s the difference between antifragility and resiliency?

The concept of antifragility is frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted, partly because Taleb contradicts himself when defining it and partly because most people haven’t actually read his book. Taleb defines resiliency as being suffering adversity and remaining the same. Antifragility builds upon resiliency; when an antifragile system suffers adversity it actually responds by improving itself.

The simplest path to resiliency is redundancy, for double the cost you can acquire two of everything and if the first one fails or runs out you have a replacement ready to go. This principle can be applied to many things. You can train two employees to do the same thing in case one quits. You can buy two rolls of toilet paper so you don’t have to run to the store with poopy pants. You can date two people at once in case one of them turns out to be a sociopath.

Antifragility manifests most commonly as a system of resilient competing entities. A free market is a generic example. If the price of oil spikes the guys who sell gas heaters ramp up production and can even benefit from economies of scale. Applying this concept on a personal level is tricky. Taleb cites an options contract as an application of antifragility. He uses the example of the philosopher Thales who optioned an olive press. In a year with a poor harvest he didn’t exercise the option and his sunk cost was low. In a year with a good harvest he exercised it and made a lot of money. No matter what happens in the world of olives, Thales wins.

Broadly speaking you can apply optionality in your personal life by not making assumptions about the future, and keeping your options open. Keep your fixed expenses low and save your money for investing when prices drop. Build skills that are transferable to other jobs/industries. Get a prenup before you get married. And so on. These opportunities are harder to spot and define than resiliency/redundancy. But I think Taleb would argue they’re the difference between survival and success.

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