Anti-Fragility. Because Happiness Takes Work And Chaos Doesn’t.

"To all my enemies: I could not have done it without you."
-Antonio Garcia Martinez, Chaos Monkeys: Obscene Fortune And Random Failure In Silicon Valley 

Off and on again in a general pursuit of inspiration when parenting the kids, I've been reading these three books:

1) Anti-fragile: Things That Gain From Disorder by initially French-educated Lebanese-American intellectual Professor Nassim Taleb, 
2) Option B by Sheryl Sandberg following the devastating and unexpected loss of her husband, and
3) Chaos Monkeys by... a guy who coded the tracking of derivatives at Goldman before moving to pre-IPO Facebook (it is in itself fairly rare that a Physics PhD can write so entertainingly haha).

(That is not to say I don't try to keenly follow what the people actually trained in childhood education say - if it's one thing I learned from a former life on investment product desks, it's that you don't interrupt the "'expert' in that particular field" - credit, equity, forex, interest rate, commodity - (unless you're just excited! haha). HSBC in Singapore used to have these daily early morning "meetings", where everyone just stood in a loose circle in the middle of the room clutching mugs and the occasional satay stick to skewer a siew mai and someone from each desk/team spoke for a few minutes. It was to quickly prep everyone across teams, for the day. You'd listen and be thinking, "Now, how can I use that for my unique desk/ client/ trading/ creating needs today? How can I put together what I need, from what they know?" Not.... Do They Know What They Know :D)

Reason I also look at (seemingly) unrelated stuff for inspiration in parenting is because, with the exception of completely absentee parents, who you are or what you know cannot completely be exclusive from your parenting choices. (This whole blog is about how we show our true colours by how we parent. The good, the bad, the stuff we all want to hide (and we all have something - Google will tell you 68-81% of parents take some of their kids' Halloween candy - which just means that there's somewhere between 19-32% of parents who like to lie on surveys :D).

Yet parenting should be a teacher like no other - of us adults. We are charged with raising another human being to someday be a part of society, hopefully as a useful member. By some unwritten rule encoded in our DNA, we perpetually strive to give our children better than we ourselves received. Because y'know, otherwise we'd all be extinct <shrugs> , evolved into a bug or something :D)

Anyway. Sheryl Sandberg is Zuckerberg's choice for COO of Facebook, whom he poached from Google, then re-defining the role to fit her specifically (can't deny the beauty of tailor-made anything, because it takes into consideration unique strengths and weaknesses). I never followed her "ban bossy" campaign, but like Freakonomics authors Levitt and Dubner - 6 kids under 5 between them at the time, Levitt reeling from the loss of a 1yr old to meningitis, studying in the subsequent parental support group why parents are notoriously bad risk assessors of child safety (people go nuts about mad cow which has a pretty low probability of occurring to them, while leaving raw meat full of harmful bacteria on kitchen counters, then re-using the same kitchen rags to wipe all manner of surfaces every day) - Sandberg (and Grant) wrote Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy while parenting two devastated children (then aged 7 and 10) through her own pain, following the unexpected death of David Goldberg.

We will always fear devastating loss. Yet eventually, after what feels like an eternity, is hopefully the compensating kindness of a newfound clarity.

And so here I am plagiarising narrating Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant:

pic from

This Timothy Chambers painting features in the chapter on raising resilient kids. Mr Chambers is legally blind and 70% deaf. As in, if he looks you in the eye, he can't see your mouth.

Now go back and look at that painting.

Now back here: Mr Chambers suffered from sometimes-paralyzing fear and nightmares when first told there was no cure for his conditions.

(How many of you went and looked at the painting again after that last line? :D)

"While they suffered an irreparable loss, my children are still fortunate... our circumstances have softened the blow... Two out of ten U.S. children of all backgrounds live in poverty..." 

Food drives and collections, like Box of Hope for eg, are a powerful visual: when you are packing the things the recipients need, you are reminded there are people, kids, worse off than you who don't have them. Pencils, toothbrushes, towels. Can you imagine needing someone to buy these things for you?

"...resilience is not a fixed personality trait. It's a lifelong project...."

Rockstar loves the "shark in the sushi tank" analogy:

Sushi connoisseurs could taste the difference if the fish arrived at the kitchen dead, not alive. Now, packing live fish in a tank for transport is not exactly cheap. Connoisseurs could however still taste the difference if you kept them alive, but packed them tightly. Finally, someone came up with the bright idea of putting a few sharks in the tank. Sure the sharks ate a few fish, but apparently somewhere in the costing trade-off between packing live fish tightly vs "free range" is a factor whereby if they get chased around by a few sharks, they taste even better. Supposedly, the increase in sales from the better-tasting sushi made out of fish that were fleeing from sharks more than offsets the loss of a few that get eaten by the sharks.

(Darn, don't you want to see what that costing spreadsheet might look like? :D)

So I told Rockstar we all need a few sharks in our tank. His response was Sure, Because Our Goal In Life Is To Be DeliciousWork Hard, You'll Taste Better.

So yes, Rockstar - you are a pink cupcake. (pic from Youtube)

Anyway. Next author - Nassim Taleb, distinguished Financial Risk Engineering Professor and prominent critic of risk management systems during the financial crisis.

I find it a little hard to read Dr Taleb lightly. Reviewers keep saying how his are some of the "smartest" books of his generation (no doubt there), how he's really funny..... Well he is funny, but it still takes some work. (Phd Monkey guy is easier to read, but Taleb is kind of the Anti-Fragility guy.)

So at risk of being the little kid who asks why the funny man surrounded by livery-ed guards isn't wearing anything, I'll say that Dr Taleb's.... is often times the writing style of an academic egghead professor (who nonetheless also likes to lift heavy weights and eat big steaks :D). He's relatively soft-spoken, and known to walk out of the room when press suggests he speak up. Something about importance of person inversely related to volume 😀 (See, you'd love him too.)

Dr Taleb has an obsession with bones - literally, there is a similar picture in his book of the indigenous women who carry baskets on their heads....

pic of Mysore woman from Wikipedia

Dr Taleb questions whether ageing really causes loss in bone density, or loss in bone density causes ageing. Up to a point, you need bone stressors, gravity, carrying stuff in your day to day. The controlled strain makes them stronger; deprive them of all stress, support near-collapsing, near-insolvent banks, and that leads to blow-ups.

That's not a typo - Bones for Banks. You might think this irrelevant, but banks are run by people who, hopefully, are useful members of society. So too, markets traded. In fact, until Spielberg becomes reality, without a real AI phenomenon that runs the Central Bank or corporates et al, we're pretty much stuck with people, their foibles, and human nature.

Anti-fragility is something we could all use. Imagine the Hydra (Taleb really does say this), that mythical multi-headed beast that grows two heads every time you chop one off.

pic from

If you follow Captain America in comics, you'll notice that this is the name given to Captain America/ S.H.I.E.L.D's main adversary, the fictitious comic book terror network:

"Hail Hydra!" - pic from

(Am I the only one who was terrified, the first time (long ago) I realised in comic books everywhere that (albeit fictitious) terrorists sported this logo....)

There are a lot of things that gain from disorder and we shouldn't always fear it. By which Dr Taleb was referring to attacks, writing "...if you can survive them, (attacks) help enormously, conditional on the person appearing to be extremely motivated...... There is a visible selection bias: ...why you instead of someone else..." 

This doesn't work for everyone though, just those who have a slight tendency (not that it's totally bad, but it's also a risk) to be too full of it. Isn't it instead possible people aren't attacking you personally because they um, don't know you exist? 😀 It is incredibly liberating to realise that you no longer want what someone else has the power to give you. The irony is when the liberating loss of value was handed to you by someone intending the opposite. Where the irresponsible pursuit of pleasure is a much more obvious known "sin", pride is probably the biggest risk. Ego is a big weakness. That's the one you don't see coming, and when you do... (not.. that you don't have a mild detached curiosity about what happens next...) that is what will set you free.

Voltaire was a well-known critic of government and Catholic Church, whom Dr Taleb refers to as a "gadfly" (don't you just love that :D). It is however extremely true of governments and large corporates (which ultimately are run by people"...when you hear a government or debt-laden corporation trying to 'reinstill confidence' you know they are fragile, hence doomed." (Because of The Lady Doth Protest Too Much syndrome haha.)

"To all my enemies: I couldn't have done it without you." No, Dr Martinez, that's not true. Yes you can. It's not enemies you need, it's epiphanies! (And not anemones!)


So, you thought immortality and Hydras were all fiction?

Nice to meet you too. - pic from

No, those aren't "heads", they're tentacles - the real life Hydra is a 1cm long predator (mostly of water lice named - get this - Cyclops, that carry some disease :D) with regenerative capabilities; it appears to never grow old, and when well-fed can produce babies (like that one growing out of its trunk) every 2 days. But someone decided to get Hugh Jackman.

Beat that, Wolverine. pic from


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About Aileen

I blog about living and raising my son in Hong Kong - where toddlers have entrance interviews, parents keep test score spreadsheets, private school debentures can trade for more than half a million USD. Raising Rockstar's the most important thing I'll ever do. We show our true colors by the choices we make in bringing up our children. My blog is a message to my toddler son, about what the world and his parents are like today - for when he becomes a teenager and knows everything.
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