Anti-Fragility / Black Swan Thinking: 12 Principles

1 — The world is way way more uncertain, uncontrollable and unpredictable than what the experts claim it is.

Accepting structural opacity (or the reality and severity of the unseen and the unknown) comes first before anything else.

2 — We can be much more certain about what will NOT work than what will. Negative confirmation takes priority over positive ones.

Progress will happen more from the errors we STOP committing, than all the ‘new’ stuff we’re putting in place.

3 — Forget about predicting new “trends”, fads, innovations, etc. Quit the neo-mania. Stop listening to those telling you that something ‘new’ will come; pay more attention to those warning that something old will break.

4 — Before ‘moving forward’ ensure that all high-impact irreversible downsides are clipped.

Failure to do that is like playing Russian Roulette. Don’t matter how often you win. Time will, eventually, make your winnings irrelevant.

5 — Ignore everything — as in EVERYTHING — a financial-product brochure or website predicts regarding future returns, probabilities, percentages, etc.

Eg, the concept of Value-At-Risk or statements like “there’s a 2% chance you’ll lose more than 37% of your investment” or “the returns on the fund is estimated at 27.3%”. It’s all B.S.

6 — Forget about the “Bell Curve”. Prioritize “Fat Tails”.

Bell curves deceive us into believing the average is all-important and that extremities will never happen. Fat tails teach us to ignore the average, focus on variability and be wary of events which change everything.

7 — Think consequences, not probabilities

We all suck at understanding (let alone managing) probabilities anyway.

8 — The more ‘faultless’ or ‘perfect’ something looks or sounds, the higher the likelihood there are hidden risks at play.

And these are completely unpredictable and utterly disruptive / destructive.

9 — Whatever prefers Variability (huge ‘swings’ in data distributions) instead of Order (hovering around the average) will break LESS easily over time.

This is why master-apprentice relationships build stronger students than formal education. And why rock-stars can withstand negative publicity better than politicians.

10 — Black swans are largely epistemic, so don’t worry about whether ‘other people’ already know or have anticipated the event. The issue is whether YOU have thought about whatever improbable thing may affect you in a high-impact irreversible manner.

Eg, 9/11 was a black swan to the whole world but not the terrorists themselves.

11 — Be extremely wary of the ‘consultant’ mentality in which ‘experts’ advise others to take risks and implement new and complicated projects at no downside to (the advisors) themselves.

Like U.S. foreign policy in the past with their ‘interventionist’ mindset, often such initiatives “fragilize” organisations and systems, thereby creating more and more problems and risks for those left behind to suffer.

12 — Be wary of Path Dependency i.e. the sequence that certain tasks take is critical. One doesn’t give the anesthetic AFTER the surgery (or the dessert before the steak).

Likewise, don’t be like Alexander the Great and try to conquer multiple empires if you don’t have something as simple as a succession plan.

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