27 July, 2023

What is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Anti-fragile? | Video

In this video, I answer the question, What is Anti-fragile? – and how does the conception anti-fragility apply to Project Management?

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This is learning, so, sit back and enjoy


The term ‘Anti-fragile’ was coined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book, ‘Antifragile: Things that Gain from Disorder’:

It describes things that not only benefit from a chaotic environment, but need one to survive and flourish. Taleb thought the existing words we have in English to describe the opposite of fragility, such as robust and secure, fail to capture the need for chaos. 

Definition of Antifragile

Taleb’s own definition is this:

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.’

Taleb argued that we must find ways to make our systems anti-fragile, rather than simply less vulnerable to randomness and chaos. He offers a number of examples about how to do this, starting from the need to avoid debt. In a project context, this means a distinct caution over how projects are funded, along with a need to redeem expenditure with benefits realization.

Resisting Challenges

The primary action we take, as Project Managers, to render our projects anti-fragile is constant monitoring and control. The more we pay attention to what is happening and what is on the horizon, the faster we can respond and adapt.

But shocks will happen to our projects. So, we must prepare by building in redundancy, setting up contingencies, and creating crisis and disaster recovery plans.

Getting Stronger in Adversity

The essence of anti-fragility, however, is the ability of a system to get stronger, the more it is challenged. Taleb uses the example of the Hydra from Greek mythology. When the heroes cut off one of its many heads, two more grow in its place.

Another anti-fragile approach in our domain is the selection of a project portfolio where some projects will thrive in conditions that are inimical to the primary project outcomes.

Agility as a Response for Anti-fragility

We can see some of the elements of agile project management as a response to the need for anti-fragility. Experimentation and small steps are less prone to big failures. But, if there is a sudden external shift, an agile project can respond more quickly than – and therefore its sponsor can out-compete – an alternative project that is tied to a predictive plan. 

And agile methods are anti-fragile in the face of changes in requirements. Predictive projects typically incur additional costs and, maybe, delays when changes are introduced. But agile projects welcome those changes. There is no additional cost, nor delay. And the outcome may be better as a result of the changed requirement.

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What Kit does a Project Manager Need?

I asked Project Managers in a couple of forums what material things you need to have, to do your job as a Project Manager. They responded magnificently. I compiled their answers into a Kit list. I added my own. 

Check out the Kit a Project Manager needs

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Mike Clayton

About the Author...

Dr Mike Clayton is one of the most successful and in-demand project management trainers in the UK. He is author of 14 best-selling books, including four about project management. He is also a prolific blogger and contributor to ProjectManager.com and Project, the journal of the Association for Project Management. Between 1990 and 2002, Mike was a successful project manager, leading large project teams and delivering complex projects. In 2016, Mike launched OnlinePMCourses.
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