February 2013

Just how is it that some bounce back from an ordeal, while others break under the strain?

Usually, I guess, we frame the answer in terms of two categories: someone (or something) is fragile and thus vulnerable to irreparable harm; or else inherently strong, and thus able to withstand even terrible trials.

For Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at NYU’s Polytechnic Institute, however, there is a third attribute: the capacity to benefit from chaos. In his provocative new book,* he calls this property “antifragility,” asserting that it defines anything that evolves successfully over time—whether a species, an organization, a society, a movement or an idea.

I’d say we are proving ourselves “anti-fragile” from every possible perspective. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, we’ve been buffeted and sorely tested. Yet we’re finding solutions we would otherwise never have had to look for. We’ve discovered previously unsuspected resources in ourselves and in each other. And we have an even sharper vision of our future than we had before.

So when I say that we will emerge even stronger from the catastrophe we’ve just been through, it’s not just to try and make us all feel better. It’s because I absolutely believe it.

*Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder