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Antifragile, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb: Summary In Quotes

Dec 2018

Antifragile, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, presents a truly unique viewpoint about the world. While there are many things here that are far fetched, there is far more that is very sound in its analysis. Even if you disagree with everything in it, this book's usefulness, in the form of working theories about how to survive in the world, will prove itself very apparent.

At no point in history have so many non risk takers--that is, those with no personal exposure, exerted so much control.
Technology is the result of antifragility, exploited by risk takers in the form of tinkering and trial and error, with nerd driven design confined to the back stage. Engineers and tinkerers develop things, while history books are written by academics.
Less is more and usually more effective...but simplicity is not so simple to attain. Steve Jobs figured out that you have to work hard, to get your thinking clean, to make it simple.
...it is much easier to understand if something is harmed by volatility, hence fragile, than try to forecast harmful events, such as these oversized black swans. But only practitioners, or people who do things, tend to spontaneously get the point.
Nature likes to over-insure itself. Layers of redundancy are the central risk management property of natural systems. We humans have two kidneys--this may even include accountants...
This so called 'worst case event,' when it happened, exceeded the worst case at the time.
Well nature, unlike fragilista Greenspan, prepares for what has not happened before, assuming worse harm is possible.
When you don't have debt, you don't care about your reputation in economic circles. And, somehow, it is only when you don't care your reputation that you tend to have a good one. Just as in matters of seduction, people lend the most to those who need them the least.
You pick up a language best thanks to situational difficulty, from error to error, when you need to communicate under more or less straining circumstances.
If nature ran the economy, it would not continuously bail out its living members to make them live forever, nor would it have permanent administrations and forecasting departments that try to outsmart the future.
When you are fragile, you depend on things following the exact planned course, with as little deviation as possible, for deviations are more harmful than helpful. This is why the fragile needs to be very predictive in its approach, and conversely, predictive systems cause fragility. When you want deviations and you don't care about the possible dispersion of outcomes that the future can bring, since most will be helpful, you are antifragile.
Good systems, such as airlines, are setup to have small errors, independent from each other. Or, in effect, negatively correlated with to other, since mistakes lower the odds of future mistakes.
...for continuous failures work to preserve the system. Paradoxically, many governments and social policies end up hurting the weak, and consolidating the established.
It is easy to assess iatrogenics when the surgeon amputates the wrong leg, or operates on the wrong kidney, or when the patient dies of a drug reaction. But when you medicate a child for an imagined or invented psychiatric disease, say, ADHD or depression, instead of letting him out of the cage, the long term harm is largely unaccounted for.
An agency problem, for instance, is present with the stock broker and medical doctor, whose ultimate interest is their own checking account, not your financial or medical health, respectively, and who gives you advice that is geared to benefit themselves.
If you put 90% of your funds in boring cash, assuming you are protected from inflation...and 10% in very risky--maximally risky--securities, you cannot possibly lose more than 10%, while your are exposed to massive upside. Someone with 100% in so called medium risk securities has a risk of total ruin from the miscomputation of risks.
Nobody discusses the possibility of the birds not needing lectures, and nobody has any incentive to look at the number of birds that fly without such help from the great scientific establishment...but why is it that when we anthropomorphize and replace birds with men, the idea that people learn to do things thanks to lectures becomes plausible.
Entrepreneurs are selected to be just doers, not thinkers, and doers do--they don't talk. And it would be unfair, wrong and down right insulting to measure them in the talk department.
Corporations are in love with the idea of the strategic plan...it makes the corporation option blind, as it gets locked into a non-opportunistic course of action. Almost everything theoretical in management, from Taylorism to all productivity stories, upon empirical testing, has been exposed as psuedo-science.
Formal thinkers and theorizing theorizers tend to write books. Seat of the pants people tend to be practitioners...indeed, history has been written by those who want you to believe that reasoning has a monopoly or near monopoly on the production of knowledge.
Perhaps, thus, he should have asked himself 'what is not intelligible to me is not necessarily unintelligent? Perhaps there is a realm of wisdom from which the logician is exiled?'
...exposure is more important than knowledge. Decision effects supersede logic. Textbook knowledge misses a dimension: the hidden asymmetry of benefits, just like the notion of average. The need to focus on the payoff from your actions instead of studying the structure of the world, or understanding the true and the false, has been largely missed in intellectual history.
It's simple. I just remove everything that is not David.
People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I am actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to a thousand things.
Steve Jobs
I am here to die a heroic death for the sake of the collective--to produce offspring, and prepare them for life and provide for them. Or eventually, books.
A half man, or rather half person, is not someone who does not have an opinion, just someone who does not take risks for it.
A blatant manifestation of the agency problem is the following: there is a difference between a manager running a company that is not his own and an owner-operated business, in which the manager does not need to report numbers to anyone but himself, and for which he has a downside. Corporate managers have incentives without disincentives.
..and marketing beyond conveying information is insecurity.
A physician takes no pleasure in the health of even his friends, a soldier does not wish for the peace of his country.

Nick Fisher is a software engineer in the Pacific Northwest. He focuses on building highly scalable and maintainable backend systems.