Antifragile IT


Antifragile (Things That Gain From Disorder) is a book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Taleb is a bestselling author, big criticizer of the finance industry and considered as one the greatest thinkers of our time. The whole concept of antifragility would be worth a series of blogs and I can only scrape the surface with this blog. If you are too busy to read the book, you can check Sami’s excellent summary instead.

It is quite impossible to sum up antifragility in one sentence. It takes lots of efforts explaining just a single term of the Antifragile: skin-in-the-game (neck-on-the-line), iatrogenics, optionality, the agency problem, etc… Here’s my idea of fighting the impossible: Antifragile means dealing with the complexity of the world in an intuitive and adaptive way while reacting to triggers immediately, even for a small cost or pain. Taleb made Antifragile up as a term because he could not find a proper synonym for something on the other end of the fragile-axle. In the end, Antifragile is not a business book nor a scientific book even though it contains masses of mathematical equations. Instead, it is a holistic essay of life, the universe, and humanity. It advises the reader to listen to the wisdom and experience of our grandmothers, because anti fragile likes volatility, as it likes time, and time is functionally similar to volatility. It’s a philosophical guide for proper living. I recommend every leader and politician to read Antifragile!


IT Analogy

One of way of understanding antifragility in IT terms is considering different methods of providing IT service (as a loose concept) and aligning them to the Fragile-Robust-Antifragile axle:

  1. Ad-hoc – Random handling of support events, no learning of past experiences, Black Swan events could wipe out customer’s business. This would mean Fragile.
  2. “ITIL” – There is a structure, that but does not guarantee value to the customer. Support organization does not benefit from stressors, as the people “are running standard ITIL” and are not required to think. This sounds like Robust (at best) and can be okay if the customer’s business will not be changing in the future.
  3. “DevOps” – Development and Operation tasks are performed and planned together by people developing new functionality and people taking care of the productive functionality. This is the best option of these three when dealing with possible Black Swans making it almost Antifragile.

There are many more aspects to Antifragile IT than just the service side of things, but it makes up as a good example. How about Antifragile (Enterprise) Architecture or Antifragile Delivery? What do you think?


Antifragile IT Service

One of Taleb’s favorite applications of anti fragile is ‘barbell’. It is a strategy that is based on avoiding the middle in favor of linear combination of extremes. On medical terms, the barbell strategy means letting our body deal with the small stressors on its own without unnecessary treatments (low extreme) – making us stronger, hormesis –  while going “all-in” when treating a severe disease (high extreme), perhaps taking calculated risks and choosing even experimental treatments.

How could a barbell strategy be applied in IT Service? Perhaps by thinking in terms of hormesis for the low extreme issues: let the support organization improve itself by benefiting and learning from the stressors (= new kinds of support events)! Allow delayed processing of these kinds of support events even if they take additional time compared to solving them through the usual procedure. This will benefit the overall support outcomes and create value for the customer as the support processes would evolve continuously and not by “improvement projects”.

Then, on the high-end of the barbell, the support organization would be prepared to go “all-in” when dealing with critical incidents. Going all-in in these kinds of situations means that the support team is capable and willing to react fast and make quick decisions based on fragility (risk/reward ratio) and not based on the probability of the outcomes, especially if the result would include politically correct aspects. Antifragility hates political correctness!

And, the members of the support team described before have their skin in the game, naturally. They will have something to gain or lose, maybe in the form of bonuses, depending on how successful they are – how much value their customers get. This kind of a setup is rarely found in global enterprises and offshore teams.



Tomorrow will be a fine day, as I am attending the Tomorrow conference in Helsinki. As it happens, Nassim Taleb will be speaking there tomorrow. See you there!


P.S. We will carry on with blogging about antifragility! Maybe the next blog will be about anti fragile HR?

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Janne Vihervuori


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