Creating Your Own Antifragility


Farnam Street offers 10 Principles to Live an Antifragile Life. The inspiration comes from the book Antifragile by Nassim Taleb, I've talked numerous times about the concept in quite a few blog posts. Antifragility is actually specifically defined as being in a position to benefit from disorder as opposed to merely being resilient in the face of disorder.

Farnam Street's ten principles are actually from Buster Benson as follows;

  • Stick to simple rules
  • Build in redundancy and layers (no single point of failure)
  • Resist the urge to suppress randomness
  • Make sure that you have your soul in the game
  • Experiment and tinker — take lots of small risks
  • Avoid risks that, if lost, would wipe you out completely
  • Don’t get consumed by data
  • Keep your options open
  • Focus more on avoiding things that don’t work than trying to find out what does work
  • Respect the old — look for habits and rules that have been around for a long time

I do not doubt the utility of any of these for life in general but they seem pretty vague in terms of true antifragility.

Attempting to address this from the bottom up, you would first need to know what you're vulnerable to in the various aspects of your life. My main gig is of course the stock market. Generically there are plenty of vulnerabilities to my line of work. In my volunteer work as Fire Chief at Walker Fire I am vulnerable to something bad happening that results in a law suit. The department has tons of insurance but it would still be bad and if some incident like this came about because a firefighter was killed, then at the very least I would be vulnerable to living with that for the rest of my days. We bought the cabin next door and rent it out on Airbnb. We've had good luck with it so far but we have some vulnerability to it going unrented. We live in a high fire danger area so we are vulnerable to one or both cabins burning down.

In terms of retirement planning, are you vulnerable to Social Security getting cut? Are you vulnerable to a low savings rate or maybe having started saving later in life? Does company stock a disproportionately large weighting in your assets? If so, then you're vulnerable to the stock going to zero (a given company going to zero may be a remote possibility depending on where you work but the financial crisis taught us that any company can fail).

In your investing are you vulnerable to succumbing to your emotions? Are you a sucker for a good story (they all sound good to me, I know I need to be very selective)?

Are you likely to be financially involved in your parents lives or your adult children's lives? That's a tough one but for your own financial well being, you have got to understand what you're in for.

You know those articles that describe how no one can afford a $400 emergency? What is your reality on this front? Do you live in an older house? Could you cover an unexpected $10,000 repair? What about a $2000 transmission job on your car? A $600 vet bill?

These are all just examples. If you're interested in this sort of self-awareness then you need to figure this out for your situation.

Where you actually benefit is admittedly tougher to figure out but I may have something that can serve as an example. I have disclosed before that my wife and I drive older vehicles. This can be a great way to save money over the long term. If you own older cars you are vulnerable to some sort of large repair bill. Sure enough, a month ago we had a $4300 expense for our 2003 4Runner. Had we just bailed and bought a new (to us) car then $4300 might be about what a down payment would be plus however many months of payments or we could have written a much bigger check to buy it outright. Either way, a much bigger outlay. For now we are arguably better off. If we can get ten more years out of the 4Runner without out that type of expense coming up again we'll definitely be better off, probably much better off if we just get five more years out of it.

Related to your career; do you have a job with a good income? What would happen if your hand was forced in terms of having to leave earlier than you expected? Someone who is in the doesn't have $400 for an emergency crowd would clearly be in trouble but if by virtue of hard work and planning you could monetize a hobby into a sustainable income even if it was less than you were making and you'd be much happier as a result, you're obviously antifragile to a adverse work event.

If you can glean anything specific from the bullet points above, great (please leave a comment) but I think the answer is a self evaluation, then a prioritization and then mitigation, or at least plans on how to mitigate what you're vulnerable to.