Nassim Nicholas Taleb (born 1960) is a Lebanese American essayist, scholar and statistician, whose work focuses on problems of randomness, probability and uncertainty. His 2007 book The Black Swan was described in a review by the Sunday Times as one of the twelve most influential books since World War II. In 2013 he published his ‘Magnus Opus’: Antifragility. (source Wikipedia)
Nassim Taleb is different, at least his views are. And they are very much in line with the less scientific views of the entrepreneurs in the San Francisco Bay Area: Steve Blank and Eric Ries. He favours phenomenology over theories, claiming that most innovations and inventions are the result of experiments, not desk research. He takes it a step further and states that theories can be dangerous if applied without testing. His last book is about antifragility. Antifragility is the opposite of fragility (which is not robustness). It is everything that has more upside than downside from random events. Often antifragile systems are build on top of fragile systems. Examples? The Swiss political system (aggregate /top level antifragile, bottom fragile) versus The Soviet Union or current Russia; The Californian economy (Top antifragile, bottom fragile) versus the French economy; living organisms (antifragile) versus propagation, e.g. half of the embryo’s undergo a spontaneous abortion, let alone the sperm cells which are wasted in the process.
What makes systems antifragile? Taleb beliefs systems must be simple. He Quotes Steve Jobs: ‘you have to work hard to make your thinking clean and make it simple’. Things should be small, not large. The Dinosaur is extinct. He beliefs there should be optionality. Mistakes should be small; gains should be large. The example of cooking, add a little bit of salt until the taste is good (or maybe just a little bit too much). Antifragility loves mistakes because you learn from them. It is about nonlinearities or convexity effects: nonlinearities can be convex or concave, or a mix of both. The term ‘convexity effects’ is an extension and generalization of the fundamental asymmetry. The technical name for fragility is negative convexity effects and for antifragility is positive convexity effects. Convex is good, a smiley; concave is bad (a frowny). For entrepreneurs it is the ‘Build, Measure, Learn’ principle that makes business more antifragile.
Much more interesting stuff is written in ‘Antifragility’; it is a great read. The point I like to make here is that Taleb helps building a scientific foundation under the Team Academy methodology of action learning. Amongst others he goes back to the ancient Greeks (Seneca) to do this. Applying the Team Academy methodology and using the systems of Ries and Blank will push students further to become successful entrepreneurs.
Entrepreneurs can make their businesses more antifragile by using Taleb’s principles. Still start-ups remain fragile as many go bankrupt or at least not make it. A country becomes antifragile if it has many entrepreneurs within its borders. I like to finish this short text with a quote of Taleb out of his book about entrepreneurs (which he would like to engrave somewhere):
Most of you will fail, disrespected, impoverished, but we are grateful for the risks you are taking and the sacrifices you are making for the sake of the economic growth of the planet and pulling others out of poverty. You are the source of our antifragility. Our nation thanks you.