Randomness and Antifragility
You’ve probably heard about fragility, but antifragility may confuse you.
You’ve probably found yourself in a “random” situation, asked “random” questions, gave “random answers”, and met “random people”.
And you’ve probably never thought about these things in a deeper and scientific manner until you had a reason to do so.
A reason such as reading our article, deciding to join our online course, or simply being willing to expand your knowledge.
So, for starters, if you want to understand why randomness isn’t so random after all, and how antifragility can be a good thing (which may be different from what you’re thinking right now), don’t hesitate to read on!
As always, we have a lot to say!
What Are Randomness and Antifragility?
We can’t think of a better person to define randomness and antifragility than Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a Lebanese-American essayist and statistician.
Namely, in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (2012), he talks about antifragility in the following manner:
Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon, there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it anti-fragile. Anti-fragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the anti-fragile gets better.
When it comes to randomness, it’s very common to define it as “a series of events taking place without any meaning or independent of any possible rule”. However, Taleb offers a different, otherwise complex perspective.
For instance, he talks about the ability to benefit from certain random events in our lives, but to also understand the thin line between what can be considered random and what can’t. In other words, randomness can sometimes be masked as non-randomness. Taleb explained this brilliantly through an example:
Of course chance favors the prepared! Hard work, showing up on time, wearing a clean (preferably white) shirt, using deodorant, and some such conventional things contribute to success— they are certainly necessary but may be insufficient as they do not cause success. The same applies to the conventional values of persistence, doggedness and perseverance: necessary, very necessary. One needs to go out and buy a lottery ticket in order to win. Does it mean that the work involved in the trip to the store caused the winning? Of course skills count, but they do count less in highly random environments than they do in dentistry.
No, I am not saying that what your grandmother told you about the value of work ethics is wrong! Furthermore, as most successes are caused by very few “windows of opportunity,” failing to grab one can be deadly for one’s career. Take your luck!
Randomness and Antifragility Definition
Randomness and antifragility are:
- for those willing to take risks and live their lives not out of fear but out of determination;
- for philosophical thinkers;
- for those who wish to take their lives to the next level;
- transcend robustness and resilience as concepts;
- applied in many disciplines, but they can be applied in everyday life too (we give concrete examples for both categories in the article);
- understood best through examples and its implications in various different fields.
Randomness and antifragility aren’t:
- so mainstream yet;
- only to be found in real life (namely, there are wonderful examples of antifragility in Greek mythology such as Hydra, the Greek mythological creature with several heads; what’s so interesting about this creature is that if you cut off one head, then two grow in its place; this is a terrific example of antifragility);
- as complex and as confusing as they initially may appear;
- available only to a specific group of people (each individual has the right to incorporate them in their life one way or another).
The History of Randomness and Antifragility
Usually when we talk about the history of different concepts, we go way back to their beginnings and explore how those concepts came to be, how they developed later on, and where they’re heading now (that is, if they’re still in development). We pay attention to what prominent individuals have to say about the subject at hand, too.
So, if we’re dealing with a concept such as money, we go back to its humble beginnings, and talk about commodity money, coins, banknotes, and then come all the way to today’s crypto. We’d also be very much eager to learn what millionaires and famous financial experts have to say.
However, when it comes to randomness and antifragility we usually “extract” such information from one source, and that is Nassim Nicholas Taleb (whom we already mentioned and we’ll continue coming back to him throughout the article).
Taleb refers to antifragility as a system through which we can increase our capacity to thrive due to mistakes, attacks, errors, failures, shocks, and so on. He discusses this in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder published in 2012 (which you’ll also find on our reading list).
As a concept, antifragility has been applied across a wide range of disciplines such as physics, risk analysis, transport planning, aerospace, computer science, engineering, and so on. Many go so far as to suggest that we should raise antifragile kids too.
Finally, when it comes to discussing antifragility and its relation to robustness or resilience, it’s important to mention that Taleb treats antifragility as something that transcends robustness or resilience. In other words, robust/resilient individuals may resist shocks and unexpected twists, hence stay the same - but antifragile people simply get better.
Finally, as with everything in life, it’s worth staying open to how the concepts of antifragility and randomness may develop or change in the future.
Why Are Randomness and Antifragility Important?
Randomness and antifragility may sound interesting and unusual upon first hearing/reading about them. However, many might struggle to truly understand what makes them so important, and how that importance can be applied to their lives.
First of all, antifragility is significant because it shows us that many good and challenging things lie outside of our comfort zone. It also shows us that destruction and chaos may give birth to many new opportunities and help us progress in life.
It also makes us understand how important it is to take risks in life, and not be intimidated by all the potential consequences. It also helps us relax and surrender to our lives rather than always chase and force things to happen.
Randomness assists us in deciphering how random the things in our lives are (or are not). The people in our lives. Our jobs. Our partnerships. Our feelings. Our salaries. Our job positions. Our passions. Our weaknesses. Our decisions. Our possessions. Our thoughts. Our gains. Our pains.
You get the point.
Finally, the most important thing about antifragility is that it shows us how much we can grow from shocking and even traumatic events (which are, of course, events not a single person would like to consciously experience). It shows us that growth is indeed possible, and while it may not always be straightforward, linear, or the way we imagine it to be - it’s still (t)here.
How To Develop a Mindset of Randomness and Antifragility?
Cultivating a randomness and antifragility mindset may sound like a daunting task, but it’s actually achievable once you know the steps to get there. Here are some suggestions to get you started on your journey to developing an antifragile mindset:
- Stay focused on your personal growth and learning rather than on financial success.
- Don’t lose sight of your priorities.
- Cultivate your growth mindset at all times.
- Learn to grow from each experience (regardless of how challenging a situation may be); in fact, the more challenging a situation is, the more of a learning experience it will provide.
- Stay aware and awake constantly of the people/events around you.
- Learn to embrace discomfort and stressful experiences.
- Find a way to flow with the randomness in your life.
- Be okay with having approximate directions about the things you want to do/achieve in your life, and not a final solution.
- Stay open-minded and optimistic as much as you can.
- Treat each obstacle that shows on your way with respect.
- Develop a system that works for you, rather than only staying focused on your goals and plans.
Examples of Randomness and Antifragility in Everyday Life
Does education prepare educatees for the uncertain future?
Do educators prepare pupils/students for the world out there?
Are educatees aware of the life that follows after they finish their education?
Educatees are a vulnerable category, but does that make the whole educational system fragile, too? It probably depends on how you might look at it. But there’s not a right answer either.
In essence, each of us has some preconceived notions about the education system and what it’s meant to be like. The same applies to antifragile educators and antifragile educatees.
How do we prepare them for the not-so-normal moments? How do we help them when they struggle? How do we help them maximize their potential?
And the answer is: life itself will do so when the right moments appear. And by “right moments” we don’t necessarily refer to pleasant moments. After all, we’re talking about antifragility.
Just think about the COVID-19 pandemic. It challenged every single aspect of the educational system - teaching, learning, grading, communication, and so on. Plus, both educators and educatees had no other option but to accept the changed state of affairs. In other words, they had no other alternative than the one they were presented with.
But not everything revolves around such extreme examples. In other words, antifragility can be embraced in the classroom on a daily basis. For instance, if you’re a teacher/professor, when was the last time your lesson went exactly the way you planned it? Or how afraid are you from making mistakes while teaching, and yet, they happen all the time?
It’s all about learning to accept randomness in the classroom, but also teaching and learning in the present moment (no matter what it may look like).
How to approach this?
If you’re the educator:
- What’s a chaotic situation in the classroom for you? In other words, what should happen during your teaching hours in order for you to classify it as a “chaotic” day? Also, how do you handle such moments?
- How do you deal with problematic pupils/students? Also, how would you define a problematic educatee? What do they behave like? Do they have poor grades or poor communication skills? Perhaps even both? How do they treat their peers (or probably mistreat)?
- What’s the most shocking thing that a pupil/student has ever said to you? Was it in private or in front of the whole class/group? How did you react? Were you able to “hide” the initial shock or were you truly overwhelmed by the experience? Did your relationship with that educatee change after the incident? If this were to happen now, what would you do differently?
- What would an educatee with an antifragile mindset look like? How would they study? How would they prepare for tests/exams? What type of relationship would they have with their peers? How would they talk to their educator?
- How random is someone’s educational success? How random can their grades be? How random can your assessment methods be? In general, how would you define randomness within an educational setting?
- How will you react if:
- you find out there’s a shooter in your school?
- an educatee has gotten into a fight with another educatee?
- someone steals your wallet?
- the whole class cheats on your exam?
- there’s an electricity problem in the whole school building and you’re teaching an afternoon class?
- an educatee tells you they haven’t studied for the test because of a family issue (Do you ask for details? Would you trust them? Would you call their parents?, and so on).
- you discover an educatee has lied to you?
- a colleague of yours/an educatee talked behind your back?
- an educatee’s parent started yelling at you and/or threatened you (of course, this is more likely to happen in middle school/high school rather than in a university setting)?
- there’s an earthquake while you’re teaching/assessing students?
- an educatee has some sort of seizure during your lecture?
- an educatee starts crying because of a bad grade they got and starts begging you to give them a higher grade (again, this scenario isn’t likely to happen within a university context)?
If you’re the educatee:
- What makes school/university stressful for you? Also, how do you usually deal with it?
- How open are you when it comes to sharing your educational problems with your parents/educators/peers (by educational problems, we mean issues with a specific subject, having a problem with an educator, trying to correct a grade, and so on)?
- How important are good grades to you? If they don’t matter, what’s the most significant thing about going to school/uni for you?
- Do your learning plans go as intended? For instance, if you decide to prepare for a test/exam and you plan to spend the whole weekend studying 3 units, and then two more days to revise - do you stick to the plan? What happens if you end up needing the whole weekend for a single unit and then a few more days pass by, and you still haven’t finished the material? Do you:
- start panicking?
- embrace the unknown?
- decide to improvise and hope for the best?
- come up with a cheating strategy?
- not show up on the test/exam day?
- ask for help (a peer, a friend, or maybe even a private tutor)?
- decide to make a better plan for next time, and now you just go with the flow?
- How do you feel about deadlines? Namely, most pupils/students are usually asked to submit papers, homework, tasks and so on, keeping in mind a specific due date. What happens if you miss the deadline? Of course, if you miss it because you haven't done the task, then it’s you to blame, but what if your laptop breaks down suddenly on the day you’re expected to send it over; what if you accidentally delete it; what if…..? Such events are quite unlikely to happen when educatees say they did, and a lot of the time educators don’t believe them simply because they sound like excuses. That said, they may actually happen, and if they happened to you - what would you do? Would you tell the truth? How would you handle such an unexpected event?
- How do you understand antifragility within your educational context? Do you think its existence can make you a more successful pupil/student or not? Does it feel like it only complicates things and makes you anxious?
- How much “randomness” do you attribute to your grades? In other words, are you consciously aware of how you’ve gotten each and every grade (for instance, by studying hard and being present at all classes) or you feel that sometimes you got a better grade because the teacher wrongly counted your points, or they miscalculated something? Perhaps they gave you a higher grade because you’re favored by them (something along the lines of being the teacher’s pet)? Or vice versa - you got a lower grade because that day the educator was mad and angry and they didn’t feel like “giving” you a higher grade?
Nothing tests our nerves, knowledge, abilities, and consistency as our job. And when you add the salary you work for on top of that - things get messy.
While different workers handle this in various ways depending on their emotional wellbeing, personality, and state of mind, the antifragile workers seem to be the most prepared.
So, how do we make more antifragile workers? The answer is that they’re made that way in their workplace. In other words, their work experience both makes and breaks them.
Workers should take more risks, step away from what they’re comfortable with, and dive into the unknown, challenge already existing notions, prove their employer wrong (with facts and arguments), lead their peers, reinvent their work policy, and revisit their values and goals all the time. They need to learn how to make stress their friend too.
After all, even Taleb himself stated that “The worst possible organization is an organization that has absolutely no problems, ever. And while we’re not implying that problems are lovely or nice to deal with, they can certainly make you grow much more than your comfort zone and perfectionist mindset.
How to approach this?
If you’re the employer:
- How can you be more antifragile as an employer? What would that mean to you, personally? What changes would you have to make?
- What stresses you out? And when stressful moments occur, how do you cope with them? How do you keep a clear mind?
- How can employers prepare for unpredictable situations? We realize that the question may sound a bit paradoxical - after all, how and why would one prepare for something that’s unpredictable? But, we refer to the skills and the mindset one should adopt as an employer to deal with such events successfully.
- Do you think all successful companies/institutions/organizations are successful for a reason (for instance, they plan their marketing strategies well in advance, they have a high-quality team and employees, and so on) or some of that success is due to random luck?
- How would you handle the following situations:
- An employee tells you they don’t know how to do a specific task (although they’ve received training for it, and you’ve explained it to them a dozen times);
- An employee tells you they’ve forgotten to inform you about an important issue;
- An employee asks for a raise, but you don’t think they’re doing their job adequately and you were even planning on maybe firing them;
- A lot employees ask for a promotion at the same time, but they have different qualifications, work experience, and some have been longer in the company than others;
- Employees don’t get along and that affects the whole company;
- You discover employees have been plotting against you;
- Someone hacks into your system and steals important data;
- An employee struggles with family issues and asks for some time off, but they’re working on a very important project for the company, they know all the important details, and they’re not easily replaceable;
- You have some family issues, and you feel you’re not doing your work properly;
- An employee starts behaving in a strange manner, they start forgetting things, but when you ask them what seems to be the problem they keep on saying they’re doing just fine;
- You find out your company’s revenue has drastically decreased.
If you’re the employee:
- Have you ever experienced any traumatic experiences at work? If you did, what happened? Were other peers involved in it? How did you react? Were there any consequences?
- Were you ever supposed to deliver an important project/make a speech/go on a business trip and so on, but you got sick the night before? How did you feel about it? What did your employer tell you? Do you think they may have thought that you were lying only to “save yourself” from having to __________ (fill in the blank with the activity you were supposed to engage in).
- Have you ever missed an important deadline? What happened?
- Have you ever misunderstood an employee’s/an employer’s instructions about something that had to be promptly done? What happened afterward?
- Did your employer ever apologize to you if you were right and they were wrong? Do you think employers in general have too big an ego to do such things?
- What’s your success as an employee a result of? Is there some randomness and pure luck to it, or is it hard work and hard work only?
- What may distract you from doing your work?
- When you can’t concentrate, what do you do? How do you make sure you’re on the right track?
- How can you become more antifragile as an employee? What steps can you take to ensure you get there? What changes can you make, starting today?
- What counts as betrayal within a professional context? Is it a colleague who steals your thunder, someone who gets the promotion you were promised, or perhaps an individual spreading lies about you and your life? How do you deal with such scenarios and people? Do you handle them on your own, or do you go and discuss such matters with your employer?
- Have you ever felt like you weren’t supported in your business endeavors? As though no peer wanted to help you and/or your employer thought you weren’t good/prepared enough? How do you prove such people wrong? What do you do?
- Do you think stressful job positions help people adjust better to the world or on the contrary - they affect their lives in a negative manner? Do you consider your current job position to be stressful? If yes, how do you feel about it?
You may not be willing to adopt a more antifragile lifestyle, but none of us have had a choice lately, even without maybe consciously wanting to. Just think about the COVID-19 pandemic (yes, we’re mentioning the pandemic again simply because it’s one of the most recent examples of antifragility) and how it disrupted not only our lifestyle, but our health (both physical and mental), friendships, travel habits, and overall behavior. It definitely affected our education and work lives as well (applies to the previous two sections).
Really, think about it for a second - even basic things such as going to the supermarket to buy your groceries or going to a shopping mall became a “procedure”: we had to wear masks, keep our distance, and some shops even required people to wear surgical gloves. Some countries even asked mall visitors to do a rapid COVID test before entering the mall.
In general, the massive disruption in our lives caused by the pandemic only showed us how (un)prepared we were for such a drastic change. Of course, there are good changes and then there are bad changes (whatever that may mean to individuals), but here’s the thing: the more antifragile we are, the better we’ll be able to adjust to changes (even if those changes are negative).
In other words, we’ll handle changes and unexpected life events in a much better way. And living in an antifragile manner may become the norm for many. And as humans, we need to learn to be ready for pretty much everything, and even evolutionarily, adaptability is everything.
Oftentimes, we don’t realize that antifragility is hidden even in the most basic of things.
In other words, sometimes even things you never considered to be antifragile are, in fact, precisely antifragile. For instance, deciding to engage in crypto, and buying Bitcoin(s) may be considered an antifragile act, because Bitcoin itself is perceived as being antifragile.
And this isn’t just a random guess, or something that only several individuals have decided to give as an example. In fact, Nassim Nicholas Taleb himself has written about Bitcoin and its antifragile nature:
Bitcoin will go through hick-ups (hiccups). It may fail; but then it will be easily reinvented as we now know how it works. In its present state, it may not be convenient for transactions, not good enough to buy your decaffeinated [espresso] macchiato at your local virtue-signaling coffee chain. It may be too volatile to be a currency, for now. But it is the first organic currency.
Leading an antifragile life
We shared specific examples above, but we’d like to dwell on some more general ones, too. In other words, we’d like to provide some tips on how you can better embrace antifragility (again, based on Taleb’s teachings):
- Follow simple rules;
- Get comfortable with redundancy;
- Resist the urge to reduce randomness or suppress it;
- Put your heart in it;
- Take tons of small risks and be fine with experimenting;
- Avoid risks which can totally destroy you;
- Don’t let data consume you;
- Be more open-minded;
- Avoid what you know doesn’t work rather than trying to figure out what does work;
- Don’t underestimate the old - consider rules and habits that have stuck around for decades and centuries.
How to approach this?
- How can you adopt a more antifragile lifestyle? What would that mean for you? What changes would you have to make? What type of behavior would you have to exhibit?
- On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest, and 10 the highest), how much do you overthink?
- How much of a control freak are you? What happens when things don’t go the way you planned them?
- Do you believe in the saying that “everything happens for a reason”? If you don’t, what do you believe? What kind of an explanation do you have for some of the bad things that may happen in your life (or in life in general)? Do you attribute them to randomness?
- How do you adapt to unpredictable situations in life? Do you panic or are you generally an easy-going person?
- How do you cope with life’s uncertainty?
- Do you have any regrets in life? If yes, what are they? Can you compensate for some of the things you regret from the past today?
- What would you do in the following scenarios:
- You’re packing because you’re supposed to travel the next day and you realize your passport has expired;
- You’re waiting in the supermarket queue only to realize you’ve forgotten your wallet at home;
- Someone steals your purse and runs away;
- Your drop your new phone and your screen breaks;
- You’re supposed to have a job interview and you spill coffee on your shirt, but you’re running late, so you have no time to go home/buy a new shirt;
- A police officer stops you while you’re driving and you realize you left your driver’s license at home;
- You’ve asked for a bank loan, but in the meantime you lose your job and struggle to find a new one;
- Someone accidentally spills wine (red wine!) on you (and you’re dressed in white) while you’re attending a very important event (plus you’re expected to give a speech in front of the public): can this scenario get any worse?
- You’ve been abroad for some time, and when you return, you realize that someone has broken into your apartment;
- You’re driving and suddenly there’s a traffic accident in front of you - you’re not involved in it, but there are no other cars or pedestrians near by to help;
- You’re at home with your partner/parent and suddenly they faint;
- You are at a friend’s house and they accidentally cut their finger with a knife and start bleeding a lot.
Famous Quotes About Randomness and Antifragility
“It hit me right there and then that these antifragile hormetic responses were just a form of redundancy, and all the ideas of Mother Nature converged in my mind. It is all about redundancy. Nature likes to overinsure itself.”
“Almost all people answer that the opposite of "fragile" is "robust", "resilient", "solid", or something of the sort. But the resilient, robust (and company) items that neither break nor improve, so you would not need to write anything on them--have you ever seen a package with "robust" in thick green letters stamped on it? Logically, the exact opposite of a "fragile" parcel would be a package on which one has written "please mishandle" or "please handle carelessly".”
“We all experience many freakish and unexpected events - you have to be open to suffering a little. The philosopher Schopenhauer talked about how out of the randomness, there is an apparent intention in the fate of an individual that can be glimpsed later on. When you are an old guy, you can look back, and maybe this rambling life has some through-line. Others can see it better sometimes. But when you glimpse it yourself, you see it more clearly than anyone.”
“This is the central illusion in life: that randomness is risky, that it is a bad thing—and that eliminating randomness is done by eliminating randomness.”
“Clearly, an open mind is a necessity when dealing with randomness. Popper believed that any idea of Utopia is necessarily closed owing to the fact that it chokes its own refutations. The simple notion of a good model for society that cannot be left open for falsification is totalitarian. I learned from Popper, in addition to the difference between an open and a closed society, that between an open and a closed mind.”
“Most of the time - 99 percent of the time - you just don't know how and why the threads are looped together, and that's okay. Do a good thing and something bad happens. Do a bad thing and something good happens. Do nothing and everything explodes.
And very, very rarely - by some miracle of chance and coincidence, butterflies beating their wings just so and all the threads hanging together for a minute - you get the chance to do the right thing.”
“Reality is far more vicious than Russian roulette. First, it delivers the fatal bullet rather infrequently, like a revolver that would have hundreds, even thousands of chambers instead of six. After a few dozen tries, one forgets about the existence of a bullet, under a numbing false sense of security. Second, unlike a well-defined precise game like Russian roulette, where the risks are visible to anyone capable of multiplying and dividing by six, one does not observe the barrel of reality. One is capable of unwittingly playing Russian roulette - and calling it by some alternative “low risk” game.”
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What are black swan events?
Nassim Nicholas Taleb defined black swans in his book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (2010) as “an unpredictable event that is beyond what is normally expected of a situation and has potentially severe consequences. Black swan events are characterised by their extreme rarity, their severe impact, and the widespread insistence they were obvious in hindsight”.
The term “black swan” was created because the majority of people believed that all swans were white, and no one could blame them. After all, those were the only types of swans they had seen. However, once black swans were discovered in Australia, the falsifiable (and false) empirical statement that all swans are white fell through.
The black swan theory teaches us that what we don’t know is oftentimes much more significant than what we do know. In other words, we may feel like we have all the knowledge in the world and rationalize it through our experiences, but everything we believe and claim to know could be ruined by the appearance of a black swan event.
Taleb’s piece of advice is not to try to predict such black swan events, but rather to build a certain level of resilience and prepare oneself for such events.
There are many examples of black swan events such as the fall of the Soviet Union, the two world wars, 9/11, the rise of Islamic fundamentalists, the rapid spread of the internet, as well as the 1987 and 2008 financial crises. What’s more, microwaves and X-rays were allegedly discovered by accident, too.
Finally, here’s a fun fact: Larry Prusak, an independent consultant, describes Taleb in his Harvard Business Review article as “a bit of a black swan himself”.
What is the Lindy effect?
The Lindy effect is a concept which denotes that the older something is, the longer it’s expected to continue to be around in the future.
The concept was named after Lindy’s delicatessen (refers to two different deli and restaurant chains) in New York City, where comedians gathered each night to “foregather [and] conduct post-mortems on recent show biz ‘action’”. The person who came up with the concept was Albert Goldman.
Albert Golman was an American author and academic. He addressed the concept in an article he wrote back in 1964 titled “Lindy’s Law”. The article was published in The New Republic.
… the life expectancy of a television comedian is [inversely] proportional to the total amount of his exposure on the medium. If, pathetically deluded by hubris, he undertakes a regular weekly or even monthly program, his chances of survival beyond the first season are slight; but if he adopts the conservation of resources policy favored by these senescent philosophers of “the Business”, and confines himself to “specials” and “guest shots”, he may last to the age of Ed Wynn [d. age 79 in 1966 while still acting in movies]
Another much more contemporary example is Bitcoin. Based on the Lindy effect, since Bitcoin has been around for some time (10 years to be precise), it’s very logical for people to expect it to be around for 10 more.
Here’s where Taleb’s theories also come into play. Namely, a thing’s robustness is proportional to its lifespan. In other words, the longer something has managed to survive, the more likely it is to continue surviving.
Taleb not only elaborates on the Lindy effect, but expands on it, too. In general, it fits in his broader theory. Nassim Nicholas Taleb writes:
So the longer a technology lives, the longer it is expected to live. Let me illustrate the point. Say I have for sole information about a gentleman that he is 40 years old and I want to predict how long he will live. I can look at actuarial tables and find his age-adjusted life expectancy as used by insurance companies. The table will predict that he has an extra 44 to go. Next year, when he turns 41 (or, equivalently, if apply the reasoning today to another person currently 41), he will have a little more than 43 years to go. So every year that lapses reduces his life expectancy by about a year (actually, a little less than a year, so if his life expectancy at birth is 80, his life expectancy at 80 will not be zero, but another decade or so).
The opposite applies to nonperishable items. I am simplifying numbers here for clarity. If a book has been in print for forty years, I can expect it to be in print for another forty years. But, and that is the main difference, if it survives another decade, then it will be expected to be in print another fifty years. This, simply, as a rule, tells you why things that have been around for a long time are not “aging” like persons, but “aging” in reverse. Every year that passes without extinction doubles the additional life expectancy. This is an indicator of some robustness. The robustness of an item is proportional to its life!
What is the Pareto principle?
specifies that 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes, asserting an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs. This principle serves as a general reminder that the relationship between inputs and outputs is not balanced. The Pareto Principle is also known as the Pareto Rule or the 80/20 Rule.
The principle is named after Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian economist, sociologist, philosopher, civil engineer, and a political scientist.
It’s worth noting that the principle is not a law, that is, it doesn’t apply to each scenario or situation. It merely suggests that sometimes, the minority owns the majority, and the minority dictates the course of events for the majority.
Hence, Pareto’s initial observation. Namely, based on Pareto’s observations, 20% of the population in Italy owned 80% of the land. So, his first remarks revolved around explaining the relationships between wealth and population.
What’s more, the Pareto principle can be applied across various disciplines such as management, human resources, manufacturing, and so on. It can be applied on a more personal level, too.
And that’s precisely what Carla’s story example shows. Carla is working on a blog project, and began thinking about how she can apply the 80-20 rule to it. Here’s what she thought: “I spent a great deal of my time, technical ability, and writing expertise to build this blog. Yet for all of this expended energy, I am getting very little traffic to the site”.
In general, Carla understood that even if her content is great, if the blog lacks a proper marketing strategy, then there’s no point to her working so much on it.
So, she decided to assign the “80%” to all the things that went into blog creation (which also included the content), and the “20%” were assigned to the blog visitors.
She then engaged in web analytics in order to focus on the blog traffic. She made edits to the blog based on questions about her top visitors, their needs, habits and behaviors, and wants.
Afterward, she made adjustments to her blog’s design in order to meet the top 20% target audience goals (which is a fairly common strategy in micromanaging). Also, she ended up rewriting some of her content in order to live up to her readers’ expectations even more.
Even though Carla’s research showed that the blog’s biggest issue was its marketing approach, she didn’t neglect the blog’s content. She thought of the common mistake - if 20% of inputs are the most significant ones, then the other 80% have to be non-significant, and she didn’t want to repeat that same mistake. In fact, she remembered reading about this in the article where she learned about the 80-20 principle, and that was “the most common fallacy cited in the article”.
Finally, by applying the 80-20 rule to her project, Carla was able to understand her readers way better and target the top 20% in a much more purposeful manner. She made other changes to her blog’s structure based on the insight she got, and her site traffic increased by more than 220%.
Suggestions for Further Reading
The concept of randomness and antifragility may be complex for some, so reading about it might clear things up. That said, you don’t need to “struggle” with understanding the concepts in order to explore them further - you may consciously decide to learn more.
Regardless of which option you resonate with, here’s our reading list:
- Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- The Drunkard's Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives, by Leonard Mlodinow
- Incerto: Fooled by Randomness, The Black Swan, The Bed of Procrustes, Antifragile, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- Einstein's Dice and Schrödinger's Cat: How Two Great Minds Battled Quantum Randomness to Create a Unified Theory of Physics, by Paul Halpern
- Physical (A)Causality: Determinism, Randomness and Uncaused Events, by Karl Svozil
- Beyond Belief: Randomness, Prediction and Explanation in Science, by John L. Casti and Anders Karlqvist
- The Hinge Factor: How Chance and Stupidity Have Changed History, by Erik Durschmied
- Luck: The Brilliant Randomness Of Everyday Life, by Nicholas Rescher
- Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
- Randomness in Evolution, by John Tyler Bonner
- God and Randomness, by Al Brunsting and Thomas R. McFaul
- Rethinking Randomness: A New Foundation for Stochastic Modeling, by Jeffrey P Buzen
P.S. We’ve chosen the books carefully - they aren’t random :)
In a nutshell, both randomness and antifragility are very interesting concepts, and much more present in our lives than we may be aware of. That said, after dealing with them in such a detailed manner, we’re sure you’ll be able to notice how they appear in your daily life.
If you wish to delve deeper into randomness and antifragility, take a closer look at our detailed online course. You can expect to learn a lot about:
- probability, modeling expectations, and the anatomy of the bell curve;
- gain more insight about black swans, what they are, how they can be predicted (if at all), and so on;
- the Barbell strategy;
- how to become scalable, hunting for multiples, and the correlation between time and money;
- how to become much more antifragile, how to apply the Pareto principle, and so on.
Are you ready to unlock a higher level of antifragility in your life? Anthony Robbins said that “it is in your moments of decision that your destiny is shaped.”
What will you decide?
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