What is the opposite of fragile?
This is the question posed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. I first heard of Nassim when I read his first book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.
Think of a package you might want to send in the mail that is filled with glass items. Because the package can be damaged the post-office would stamp “fragile,” or “handle with care,” or “breakable” on the box to avoid mishandling.
But what is the opposite of this? What is the opposite of fragile?
Nassim writes, “Almost all people answer that the opposite of ‘fragile’ is ‘robust,’ ‘resilient,’ ‘solid,’ or something of the sort.”
He points out that those sorts of items never break nor improve during mishandling.
Logically, the exact opposite of a ‘fragile’ parcel would be a package on which one has written ‘please mishandle’ or ‘please handle carelessly.’ Its contents would not just be unbreakable, but would benefit from shocks and a wide array of trauma. The fragile is the package that would be at best unharmed, the robust would be at best and at worst unharmed. And the opposite of fragile is therefore what is at worst unharmed.
In other words, antifragile is something that is at its best when being challenged, tossed around, pushed and pressed down on, are goes through trials.
Applied to leadership, antifragile leaders are improved on and are at their best facing challenges, trials, and tribulations. Leaders who are “fragile” avoid and resist challenges and falter during times of testing or tribulation.
As Nassim puts it, “And we can always detect antifragility (and fragility) using a simple test of asymmetry: anything that has more upside than downside from random events (or certain shocks) is antifragile.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-3)
Antifragile leaders have the wisdom to see that trials produce faith and perseverance. They seek to be in the middle of difficult struggles and challenging circumstances because they know that is when they are at their best and how they grow and strengthen their leadership.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him (James 1:12).
Antifragile leaders are better in the fire and the heat.
Antifragile leaders understand that the rewards do not come from “handle with care” sorts of challenges or leadership roles and opportunities. No, the rewards come from leadership roles that take them out into deep waters, high mountains and dangerous places to be buffeted, pushed, pulled, swamped, overwhelmed, challenged and tested. This is when the antifragile leader is at their best.
Antifragile leaders understand that it is who they are becoming as disciples and leaders…as discipled leaders…that matters most. Transitory failure is a chance the antifragile leader takes. He or she understands that transitory failure is not a final failure. As Winston Churchill, a leader who faced massive challenges in his life of leadership, famously said, “Success is never final and failure is never fatal.”
And while the antifragile may fail at the task…but they ensure they do not fail in their character.
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1st Peter 1:6-7).
So launch out, lean in, and jump off. You were made to be an antifragile leader and the trial and tribulations await.