Brain Food

March 25, 2017

The Systems That Are Almost Unbreakable





What happens when you drop a wine glass on a hard floor? Obviously, it shatters. Glass is fragile – when put under stress, it breaks.

The concept of fragility is easy to understand, but what about its antithesis? What do you call something that gets stronger under stress?

Antifragile systems need a bit of pressure

Although most things will eventually break if you apply enough pressure, there are a few systems that actually benefit from stress. Periods of strain actually cause them to grow more powerful.

Muscles are a great example. When you lift weights or go jogging, you’re placing your body under stress. But your muscles don’t break. In fact, it’s exactly this stress that causes them to grow stronger.

However, a word of warning: even though antifragile systems love a bit of rough and tumble, you shouldn’t push them too far. Making them stronger is a gradual process. For example, a rookie gymnast may tear a muscle if she immediately attempts the most difficult moves.

Another example of an antifragile system is the economy. Recessions actually force companies to improve their operations, thereby strengthening the economy in the long run.

For more on the power of antifragility – including how you can build antifragile systems yourself – read our blinks to Antifragile, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.