Go **** yourself!

Seriously! I didn’t say that though! It’s that scholar that looks like a bodyguard. And you don’t want to mess with him. For one he has a crazy workout routine. The “maximum lifts” type of routine where you lift as much as you can in a few short reps, no wasting time on puny repetitions. In and out. Push to your maximum, give yourself a lot of time to rest and scarf down pounds of proteins between workouts! But that’s not why you should listen to him. He is also the bestselling author behind ‘The Black Swan’ and now he is telling you to go eff yourself! Well not really…but his latest book “Antifragile” seems to be pointing in that general direction. If you haven’t already guessed by now that author is none other than Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

So what are we talking about here! As the Roman statesman, Cato the Censor once said that comfort in any form is a road to waste. Nothing good ever comes out of it. Even eating food regularly can be bad for you. You need the stressor of hunger to be healthy. You see deprivation triggers survival. It pushes your body to fight. The same thing with exercise. The pain your muscles feel is your body breaking down the weakest proteins. Survival of the fittest at play even at the cellular level. One of the signs of aging they say is the loss of bone density and muscle tissue. True. Some of that is triggered by senescence. A natural part of aging. But a lot has to do with maladjustment. What if I were to say that loss of bone density and muscle tissue is what triggers aging and not vice versa. It has to do with getting too comfortable! And there is something you can do about it! Get out there and push your body like it has never been pushed before! In other words, go **** yourself! The same goes for pretty much everything else! It’s in our nature as you well see…

You know how the best horses lose? When they compete with slower ones! That state of comfort created by the absence of a worthy competitor can degrade the best of the best! We need to raise the bar and put ourselves against the wall to succeed. As Ginni Rometty, CEO of IBM once said, “Growth and comfort cannot co-exist” You want to innovate. Get into trouble. Like serious trouble. It’s the excess energy from setbacks that drives innovation. The Roman Poet, Ovid said “difficulty is what wakes up genius”. Of all the innovation we have ever seen did anything ever come out of a committee of highly paid executives sitting comfy in their ivory towers? I think you know the answer. The greatest technological leaps from the Industrial Revolution to the birth of Silicon Valley have come from a disproportionate number of uneducated entrepreneurs and technicians going against the grain!

So where is all this coming from? This is the core thinking behind “Antifragile.” Nassim Nicholas Taleb looks at the world and why it’s broken. He looks at man as an individual and the systems he has created which are based on principles that make them fragile. Susceptible to self-destruction and failing. By looking at nature he opens us up to another world view. A world where harm is beneficial. Not only that but it is actually needed to avoid failure and thrive. This phenomena is known as Hormesis. A state when a certain amount of harm is actually beneficial for the organism. This is the principle that makes us healthy. From the way vaccines work when a small amount of bacteria in our body prepares us to fight it, to the way our muscles get stronger from the stress of a workout. The same idea explains other phenomena in nature. Why trees grow back denser when you cut their branches? How surviving bacteria mutate to a stronger variant if not eradicated completely! How cancer cells come back with greater force if they survive the initial rounds of chemotherapy and radiation! Going beyond nature, this also explains a revolution. How harming a few, stokes the ones remaining to unite and fight back harder! How ideas if suppressed, spread faster and wider! You want something to spread just say it’s a secret and be emphatic about it. You want a book to be read, ban it! Haven’t we seen that in the world of marketing too? Controversial or banned ads tend to go viral organically despite limiting access to them! When people, cells, ideas or any self-organizing entity is pushed against the wall, put under stress, it fights back harder. It thrives!

Individuals and systems that are allowed to get comfortable, free from any kind of stress degrade and fail. This is why nature, the biggest antifragile system of all, continues to flourish. However there is an inherent conflict between man and nature! Nature doesn’t really care about you as an individual. It wants you to go out there and *** yourself! In fact if you won’t nature will go ahead and **** you up anyways! (I’m sorry is your swear jar full already?) Allow me to explain.

It seems the only thing that matters to nature is your genetic code. It’s always been the survival of the fittest. Nature cares about the collective. Individuals don’t matter. Nature thrives on continuity at an information level. For nature to be antifragile individual organisms need to perish and die. Why? For one an individual can never prepare for a random future event to perfection. However every such random event brings with it an antidote in the form of an ecological variation that is passed onto generations that follow. In fact any self-organizing system be it society, culture, economy, what have you…thrives on failure…your colossal, individual failure. Man-made systems are organized to the contrary – plotting and planning the future based on past events. Preparing for the worst-case scenario. Remember the Black Swan? Newsflash! Didn’t every worst-case event that happen exceed the worst projected case at the time? Bingo! For humans to be immortal they need to have perfect information about future events and adapt in real time. That’s not how nature operates. Large systems thrive on individual failure. That’s not good news for us as individuals. But it’s necessary. So our only option is to push ourselves to the limit. Be stronger. Because only the fittest survive. That’s the way it’s always been. Yes not everyone will succeed but pushing forward despite the risks is the only way to go!

You would think that the Titanic disaster was a waste and should have been avoided. It wasn’t. It has saved more lives than the ones lost. Their sacrifice has contributed to avoiding even bigger failures. The lessons learnt from that disaster shaped the way ships are now constructed. That’s the thing about failure. The people who lose have indeed contributed although they are not celebrated for this. They have given us information about things that don’t work. That is priceless knowledge. It is what enables the ones to follow to do things differently, to not do what has already been done. All those plane crashes have contributed to making aviation safer. Every life lost as a result has made flying safer for the rest. However not all systems work this way. When a plane crashes it is isolated. The system goes on. It does not effect other flights. A bank failing however has the potential to bring the whole economy down because of the interdependency of the system and the lack of redundancy. There are lessons in nature here as well. But that’s a topic for another blog post (and for me to finish reading the rest of the book!). For now it is suffice to say that as individuals our only way forward is to always rock the boat! If you are lucky you would succeed, if not you would have contributed in some way anyways! You may not be celebrated for it but whatever you do would matter. It’s the way the world works. In the inorganic world a state of balance and equilibrium is inertia. For living organisms this state of equilibrium is death. This is the philosophy encoded in nature – “Innovate or Die!” That’s the only choice we have! So how about you go and just **** yourself! 😜

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