Black swans and the ‘antifragile’ edge


The COVID-19 pandemic we’re experiencing is typically known as a “black swan” occasion: an surprising, unexpected catastrophic occasion. We have heard from many self-help practitioners and so-called specialists who train us tips on how to cope and tips on how to be extra resilient, however lately, we’ve heard a brand new, intriguing idea referred to as “antifragility.” We interviewed Philip Te, who’s a senior banker, threat skilled, creator, professor and monetary markets practitioner based mostly in Singapore. He enlightened us about black swan occasions and this new mind-set. So, what are black swan occasions and why ought to we fear about it?

Nassim Taleb, one among the most unique and provocative threat administration and social philosophers of our time outlined black swan occasions as occasions which can be surprising as a result of nothing in the previous can convincingly level to its risk, and these occasions have excessive affect. Many catastrophic occasions in historical past could be categorised as black swan occasions.

Predictive fashions

The drawback is we human beings are inclined to assume that we’ve got turn into extra refined in quantifying issues—that we’ve got mastered threat and have relied on predictive fashions to information our most essential choices in life. I’ve contributed to this drawback too, having written a two-volume ebook on financial institution threat administration discussing predictive threat administration fashions. And that’s the hazard—as Niels Bohr mentioned: “forecasting is difficult especially if it’s about the future.” Black swan occasions train us to be humble and study that catastrophic occasions are hardly ever knowable upfront. It could also be apparent in hindsight, however not upfront.

If black swan occasions aren’t predictable, does that imply that we may do nothing about it? On the opposite, accepting that black swan occasions aren’t predictable and knowable is the first step in the proper route: that’s, adopting a nonpredictive view of the world leads us to the proper path.

Let me clarify. One of my favourite tales for instance it’s this: let’s say you may have this valuable vase from the Ming Dynasty—value thousands and thousands of {dollars}. You are organizing a kids’s occasion and we all know how youngsters behave throughout events. What would you do? Where will you focus your threat administration effort on? On the vase or on the youngsters?

As a mum or dad of two very younger youngsters, I do know intuitively the reply to this query. I ought to concentrate on the vase and not the youngsters.

Unfortunately, most threat administration fashions which can be getting used, whether or not in corporations or in our private lives, are centered on the youngsters. The nice investor Howard Marks of Oaktree Capital mentioned it finest when he mentioned that threat isn’t totally “quantifiable, objective and absolute” each prospectively and retrospectively and that it’s “largely a matter of opinion.”


Adopting a nonpredictive view of the world implies that we concentrate on one thing that’s knowable and quantifiable, i.e. the vase, or fragility.

What is antifragility? How is that this completely different from resilience?

Antifragility, surprisingly, is a phrase that’s nonexistent in the English language—that is an unique time period coined once more by Taleb. Antifragility goes past resilience.

The goal of resilience is stability—that regardless of the prevalence of catastrophic occasions, one stays the identical, unmoved and secure. Antifragility doesn’t solely resist shocks however one thing that loves shocks. It is a state of affairs or a mindset the place one advantages from issues and will get higher as one is uncovered to those black swan occasions.

In the world of black swans, the antifragile mindset permits one to achieve from issues. Antifragile is what permits us to thrive in a world we don’t perceive.

Can you give concrete examples of antifragility?

Sure. Antifragility is in all places. You take a look at the corporations that thrived throughout the pandemic—you may have Amazon, Netflix1who benefited from the chaos and dysfunction introduced by pandemic. If we concentrate on what they’ve carried out, you’ll discover out that they’ve adopted a unique sort of mindset. The startup mindset of failing small, quick and frequent is a concrete instance of this. The follow of shifting quick, breaking issues, and tinkering are all examples of antifragile practices.


You may see that in organic organisms which have thrived. Our conventional notion of energy based mostly on measurement and energy is flawed. Look at dinosaurs and the gigantic prehistoric animals—how they’re now all extinct—due to destructive black swans. In distinction, take a look at cockroaches—they’ve survived thousands and thousands of years and numerous catastrophes. Cockroaches are antifragile: they’re small, easy and adaptive.

How will we apply antifragility in our each day life?

I’ll maintain it quick. Avoid destructive black swans. Be uncovered to constructive black swans. How? By altering your mindset and routines such that one ought to all the time be in the behavior of fixed studying and tinkering. Jeff Bezos, in his latest interview with David Rubenstein, sums it finest when he mentioned that he has seen small issues, very small issues go large. One ought to all the time experiment and constantly study. That’s on the constructive black swan. On the destructive black swan, I’m a giant believer of what the legendary hedge fund supervisor Ray Dalio mentioned: “keep your risk of ruin at zero.” In different phrases, construct buffers upon buffers to guard your self towards destructive black swans.

Te will conduct a free webinar titled “Antifragile: Going Beyond Resilience in Life, Work and Investing” on Feb. 27; 2pm-5pm by Inquirer Academy. He will talk about the significance of getting a powerful threat administration philosophy and perceive why conventional approaches now not works on this surroundings. INQ

For extra details about the webinar and schedule of on-line programs provided by Inquirer Academy, please e-mail [email protected], or ship SMS at these numbers 0945.2158935 / 0998.9641731. Registration is required to attend this highly-rated webinar.

The creator is the Executive Director of Inquirer Academy.

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