Johnson Cook

Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Johnson Cook - Atlanta tech investor. Entrepreneur.

Antifragility – Make it the Goal


Lately, I’ve been enjoying a book that was recommended to me called Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Although it’s a pretty intense read (heavy and academic) the ideas are fascinating! Here is a summary of the idea:

We all know what fragile means, right?  Easy to break, etc.    What’s the opposite of fragile?   The most common thought is that “robust” is the easy of fragile. Hard to break. Tough.   But no. The author proposes that the opposite of fragile isn’t just being robust. Robust is half way. Robust means that you are able to withstand being any worse off by being broken.

Antifragile is benefiting from stress. Antifragile means that you improve when dropped.

There are lots of metaphors in the book, but here’s one that stands out to me the most. A candle is fragile. One puff of wind and it’s blows out. A forest fire is antifragile. Wind makes it stronger. More wind, more fire. More stress makes it more successful.

Once you start thinking about the concept, it will creep its way into your mind several times in a day.

For me, the most common application of the idea comes in thinking about my schedule and workload balance. I finally have a way to describe the trend I first noticed in school at Georgia Tech:   the more classes I took, the more I overwhelmed my schedule, the better my grades that semester. The easier my course load and less to do, the worse the grades became. My worst grades usually came in summer semesters when I took just one or two classes.    The more pressure that I apply to myself, the better I am able to perform. That is antifragile.

The same goes for entrepreneurship and just life functioning in general. I’ve never had a more full plate than I have now. Between 30-40 meetings every week, getting home after 9pm several nights per week, 3 kids that are each in at least 2 activities, a hefty commute most days, and hundreds of inbound e-mails requests for time… oddly enough, it’s the most chaos I’ve seen in my whole life, yet I feel that for some reason I’m functioning more effectively than I ever have before. The chaos forces me to intensely delegate. It forces more intentional family time. More intentional long weekends and vacations.  It forces me to be efficient. It forces trust on my team and those around me.  It forces me to prioritize and say “no thanks” or “I have to pass” to many things.   It’s awesome.  It feels like I found another 5 gears on the bicycle!

If you’re worried about your time when considering taking on a new project, volunteering to something important, or offering selfish generosity, then I challenge you to take the opposite view.

Consider that if you build yourself to be antifragile, the more quantity of  important things you take on, the more you will be able to handle.



  • Andrew Lewis says:

    I guess “fail fast, fail cheap” is anti fragile? inverts failure into a strength all it’s own. Thanks for the ref on the book, I’ll check it out.

    March 29, 2013 at 1:47 pm
    • Johnson Cook says:

      I think you are right, Andrew. I’ve observed that most successful entrepreneurs started with at least one failure. This is why many investors I know look for the entrepreneur who has failed once, or at least considers something he did a failure. Definitely falls in the Anti-Fragile category.

      April 11, 2013 at 10:00 am

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