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Antifragile: The Things You Gain from Disorder

abstract:Business Insider posted a great article on the realities of personal reputations as viewed through our digital foot print. From our LinkedIn profile to our Facebook page to our Instagram posts and our Tweets, all that information is readily available to the public and for the most part it's information we've shared for the purpose of getting our identity and thoughts out there.

But what happens when information about you is circulated beyond your control? Something that attacks or slanders; is distasteful, un-accurate or perhaps downright mean? Celebs have to deal with leaked nude photos-real and fake. CEO's have to pay the consequences of a public outcry from off-hand comments, (Lulu Lemon founder's stepping down as CEO over a remark made about who should wear or not wear his spandex clothing line), all the way down to a bad review about your book posted on Amazon that negatively affects sales.

Micheal Simmons writes an intriguing piece in Business Insider on the topic, and I've pulled one segment related to Nassim Taleb for highlight. Taleb is the bestselling NYT author of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable a book that uses his statistician's brain to talk about outlier events - those "rare and unpredictable events" and how to seize an opportunity posed from a good outlier or negate the effect of bad a outlier.

But it's his new book, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder that we here reference. I think


September 23, 2014
— the book stems from his background as co-director of the Research Center For Risk Engineering at NYU. Nassim has considered the issue of public personae in the digital age. And reputation is at the centre of it. As the BI article points out... "The first sentence of his website boldly states with regard to ethics: 'If you see fraud and don't shout fraud, you are a fraud.'"

Simmons goes on to say, [and I paraphrase liberally here from his text]...Antifragile takes on prominent economists who make bad predictions costing taxpayers a lot of money, who have no personal skin in the game, and who cherry pick and publicize their own predictions that manage to come true. When seeing Thomas Friedman, the New York Times columnist and Nobel-prize winner at the World Economic Forum, Nassim describes himself as feeling physically sick and nauseous. For Nobel-prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, he coined the phrase the 'Stiglitz Syndrome.'"

How does someone get away with saying their thoughts so directly and remain so respected?

Nassim has built an antifragile reputation.

As he explains in the book, things that are fragile break when they're exposed to stressors. A glass vase is the perfect example. If you drop it, it breaks. With fragile objects, you want to keep them as safe as possible.

Things that are robust do not change when exposed to stressors.

Nassim's contribution is the introduction of a third category; antifragile. Antifragile things actually want stress up to a point, because they become stronger with it. Our bodies are a perfect example. We grow muscle by exposing it to lots of resistance.

As we enter a world where there is more and more uncertainty and where other people have control over our reputations, becoming antifragile by 'outing' yourself may be the best approach to building a reputation.

In his book, Nassim recommends:

"Some jobs and professions are fragile to reputational harm, something that in the age of the Internet cannot possibly be controlled these jobs aren't worth having. You do not want to "control" your reputation; you won't be able to do it by controlling information flow. Instead focus on altering your exposure, say, by putting yourself in a position impervious to reputational damage. Or even put yourself in a situation to benefit from the antifragility of information. In that sense, a writer is antifragile [benefitted by a stressor]

Now let's say I were a mid level executive of some corporation listed on the London Stock Exchange, the sort who never take chances by dressing down, always wearing a suit and tie (even on the beach). What would happen to me if I attack the fragilista? My firing and arrest record would plague me forever. I would be a total victim of informational antifragility. But someone earning close to minimum wage, say, a construction worker or a taxi driver, does not overly depend on his reputation and is free to have his own opinions. He would be merely robust [not hurt or helped] compared to the artist, who is antifragile. A midlevel bank employee with mortgage would be fragile in the extreme. In fact he would be a complete prisoner of the value system that invites him to be corrupt to the core because of a dependence on the annual vacation in Barbados. The same with a civil servant in Washington."

In summary, it looks as though you'll have to read Antifragile to see how people ensure their reputation, career and life can't be shattered by digital demise.

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