How Fragile are you…

Now that looks like a  good thought provoking question…sounds like something your phycologist  may ask you as you lie on that proverbial couch. I am not going down that road…

The reason for the question is to bring in a context that isn’t necessarily that well known – anti-fragility.

Nicolas Taleb ( has written a very heavy book on this subject (I include a Guardian review on this later for that insight) but to extract a very simple summary, Taleb divides the world into three states:

– The Fragile

– The Robust

– The Ant-fragile

The first two we all understand; you are fragile if you avoid disorder and disruption for fear of the mess they might make of your life: you think you are keeping safe, but really you are making yourself vulnerable to the shock that will tear everything apart. You are robust if you can stand up to shocks without flinching and without changing who you are.  These would be the two typical reactions both at an individual level, organisation and in software development, and of course the majority would want the “robust” tag.  You would never wittingly create fragile code but would be proud to call it robust.  Anti-fragile is the ability increase capability as a result of stress/mistakes/failures.

If you are anti – fragile the shocks and disruptions make you stronger and more creative, better able to adapt to each new challenge you face.  Not surprisingly, Taleb believes we should all try to be antifragile.

Does Anti-fragility actually exist though?  The criticis will say it simply doesn’t.  In one way, it doesn’t actually matter as its more a state of mind and a direction to aspire to.

The critics view (well one of them).  The Guardian: Still, this book should be approached with caution. We do live in a fragile world, vulnerable to extreme shocks. But antifragility is not the solution. It is too crass an idea, and Taleb, for all his vaunted intellectual curiosity, is not really curious about the lives of anyone who doesn’t live like him.

The DXC LEF has a more positive approach.  They say that if you apply three key dynamics of sensing, choosing and changing then you are maintaining a more anti-fragile state

– Sensing: this is to make sure as much as possible that you know what’s coming – not just around the corner (metaphorically) but as far out time wise as possible.  There are of course many many ways to increase capability in this space, from simple research and reading of news feeds, through to be a lot more precise in the area you are working within.

– Choosing – in the more complex and chaotic environment , the number of choices rises exponentially.  The key here is not being better at making choices (although that obviously helps) but more to move the environment from chaotic to more of an ordered one where the number of choices become much less.  Tools such as scenario planning, value-based management and governance e are all intended to help this move

– Change – probably the hardest of the three approaches.  One approach that will often be sited is “agile” (and this is a plug for my next blog to expose the broader theories of this much used term).  Change has to be measured as too little leaves you behind whereas too much will create too much chaos (and hence too many choices that could be wrong)

The conclusion from this report going back to the three states of fragile, robust and anti-fragility Is more that you build on the robustness to become more anti-fragile.  Its very much a goal rather than a specific target and by looping through sense-choose-change there is every opportunity to be successful

As a final aside, a much older model can be referenced here which has stood the test of time (the OODA loop – – this refers to the decision cycle of observe, orient, decide and act – with a constant feedback loop between each state.  I like the DXC LEF model more in this context, as it is very specific about “change” as opposed to simply “act” which doesn’t feel as focused or as strong.


It is a big, baggy, sprawling mess.


Dividing the world into three: by Nicolas Taleb (

DXC Leading Edge Forum on Anti Fragility –







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