Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Immune to Volatility

Written by: on October 27, 2022

Dr. Hassim Taleb, a Lebanese-American, brings his unique and vastly varied background, education and experience to manifest in his writings. Taleb reveals he is a master map layerer utilizing math, statistics, science, philosophy, and epistemology to invite the reader into fresh spaces to consider the nature of systems, institutions and humans in his book Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder. The journey Taleb takes us on through 25 chapters incapsulated in 7 sections, centers on the premise that people and systems that are “antifragile” have more capacity to grow in strength (rather than breaking apart) through the stressors of life; “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”[1]


The idea of being antifragile is fascinating; “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty.”[2] It’s not a new theme; this concept has been found in other books we have been reading. Taleb uses the example of weightlifting training,[3]Bolsinger references athletic training as analogy for growth[4], and Friedman uses the function of the human immune system as a way to understand how the well-differentiated leader gains strength.[5] Immune systems are weaker when they don’t have challenge. The tension for me is that though these authors highlight the simple yet complex truth of nature, uncertainty, volatility, and change all illuminate the low threshold of pain humans have in this time.  To be antifragile there must also be a high threshold of pain.  How do we really convince those we lead that “no pain, no gain” is not where we need to be?


As I pondered the premise of antifragile, I could not help but wonder where we can find the antifragile truth in scripture.  At first, I struggled to find characters, stories, or words.  Then as I began sermon prep, I began to hear from Zacchaeus; Zacchaeus, the pint-sized tax collector, was considered by the community to be unredeemable. He had nothing to lose in climbing up in a tree like a boy to see Jesus; Zacchaeus – antifragile. The Old Testament prophets often ran head long into risk and volatility. Paul teaches us an aspect of antifragility when he reminds us in Romans 5:3-5 “We are glad for our troubles also. We know that troubles help us learn not to give up.  When we have learned not to give up, it shows we have stood the test. When we have stood the test, it gives us hope.  Hope never makes us ashamed because the love of God has come into our hearts through the Holy Spirit Who was given to us.”[6]  And Jesus speaks to the expected pain in growing in Him, “I am the true Vine, and my Father is the Gardener. He lops off every branch that doesn’t produce. And he prunes those branches that bear fruit for even larger crops. He has already tended you by pruning you back for greater strength and usefulness by means of the commands I gave you.”[7]  These passages support and encourage an antifragile faith.  And it takes an antifragile faith to have vision to know the truth that an antifragile church is most profoundly experienced in the stressors of persecution or non-Christendom context.


Contemplating this notion of the benefits of being antifragile coaxed me once again to reflect on my journey of leadership.  It is clear 5/8 of my ministry leadership has often resulted in my fragile spirit.  The departure from the second church I served certainly shattered my identity.  But what is also true is that all those pieces have been superglued together and has indeed helped to shape a more antifragile self.  Taleb’s Jewish friend, Shaiy, speaks to this reality when he said, “Everything gains or loses from volatility. Fragility is what loses from volatility and uncertainty. The glass on the table is short volatility.”[8]  From my loss from volatility, I then gained.  For in the great pain and sadness of brokenness I then have capacity to experience the great joy of the blessings in wholeness.


Although I am more regularly able to embody antifragility, I am cognizant that I am not a finished project; the random and volatile shock to my system will likely test my threshold of pain. Even now I feel in my body the fight going on in my immune system due to getting my second round of Hepatitis A & B vaccinations.  I am praying the antifragile wins. Weeping for the night but joy comes in the morning. Antifragile.


[1] Taleb, Nassim Nicholas Nicholas. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Reprint edition. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2014. Page 15. Kindle

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid. Page 67-68.

[4] Bolsinger, Tod. Tempered Resilience: How Leaders Are Formed in the Crucible of Change. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2020. Page 198.

[5]Friedman, Edwin H., and Peter Steinke. A Failure of Nerve, Revised Edition: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix. 10th Anniversary edition. New York: Church Publishing, 2017. Page 193-194.

[6] New Living Translation

[7] The Living Bible

[8] Taleb, Nassim Nicholas Nicholas. Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder. Reprint edition. New York: Random House Publishing Group, 2014. Page 549.

About the Author


Nicole Richardson

PC(USA) pastor serving a church in Kansas City. In my spare time I teach yoga and scuba diving

13 responses to “Immune to Volatility”

  1. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Nicole: What a great connection of this reading and others to the analogy of the vine and the necessity of pruning. I think while we can agree of the ‘why’ of pruning, the ‘how’ is always hard to wrestle with while going through it. In your experience, what are some ways that you have led your congregations into greater antifragility over the years?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      The how is difficult, I think, because often it is random, and uncertain lol.

      I am not sure that I have really led anyone to an antifragile place. Although have the governing board at this church read Failure of Nerve is pushing most of them in the struggle.

  2. mm Roy Gruber says:

    Nicole, thanks for your honesty in sharing your own journey toward antifragility. I fear that there are many fragile people who frequent churches and do not help the community move toward health. That presents quite a challenge for leaders there. You’ve endured, and that is not small accomplishment. Do you think there is one overriding reason why a theology of suffering hardly exists in churches in this day? Or, do you think there are multiple reasons for it?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Roy thank you for your words of encouragement.

      I think theology of suffering has diminished in North America because the church has been hyper focused on God loves you and that is all you need. I think that the threshold of pain that North Americans are capable of handling these days is so low that the consumer marketing theme “Have it Your way” and “You’re worth it” is in deep tension with the gospel. We don’t want to sit in Good Friday, we just want to get to Easter. And so….pastors like the paycheck more than speaking the prophetic words….again…low threshold of pain 🙂

  3. mm Eric Basye says:

    Great blog. You do an excellent job of connecting to past books. I hate to say it, but they have blended together for me! How do you do it?

    Good reflections on leadership and antifragility in the Bible. In what ways has this doctoral program been a part of that journey of antifragility for you?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Eric thank you for your kind words!

      Well, as you might have suspected, the most pivotal reading that has opened me up to a more antifragile identity is A Failure of Nerve. For me many of our other books have a connection one way or the other to it (In my opinion). Funny enough some of the antifragile growth has come from those moments in our advances that have irritated me 🙂

  4. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Nicole: Well we are all fragile in our own ways, aren’t we? Christ does bring us back to wholeness. Even though Taleb doesn’t take the spiritual/Christian approach as all of us in this cohort, there are direct links to our faith. The idea is applicable to our walk with Christ. If Taleb isn’t a Christian, this approach might be a way to reach him?

    • mm Nicole Richardson says:

      Troy I concur that we are all fragile in our own ways. Thank you for that.

      I think I read somewhere that Taleb is a Greek Orthodox Christian. I did do a search on my kindle for words like religion and spiritual. There were a few but generally not in a context that was helpful for me. I think that his embrace of the random and uncertainty does speak in subtle ways of living in the spirit of the mysterious.

  5. mm Andy Hale says:


    You are stronger than you give yourself credit. Processing those experiences are painful but a necessary part of growing and adapting as a leader.

  6. Elmarie Parker says:

    Hey Nicole, thank you for your post and deep reflection on Taleb’s book, especially his central thesis. Your work to locate in scripture the theme of antifragility was helpful to me…especially the translations you chose. Thank you.

    You write: “To be antifragile there must also be a high threshold of pain.” And then raise the question of the implications this has for how we lead and for those we lead. Taleb offers some pretty heavy criticism of our human drive for security and comfort. I’m wondering how as a leader I can better walk with individuals and communities when they are experiencing a shock or volatility or other ‘turning one’s world upside-down’ events to encourage them to lean into the discomfort and discover strengths they may not have known they had (or new strengths)? I’m curious what you discovered about this dynamic as you served your congregation in KC through the pandemic and so many other challenges? What most helped you and the congregation dig deep and discover or nurture more of your respective antifragility capacities?

  7. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    Elmarie, thank you for such encouraging words!

    I do think part of the journey for us as leaders is being very clear on our identity and not lean towards enmeshment with others and their anxiety in the midst of the shock waves. It takes nerves of steel at times. One thing that Taleb doesn’t mix into his writing…at least I didn’t hear it, is the pastoral care piece. I’m not sure if this a cultural aspect for him. Perhaps it’s more a human thing…..we are more inclined to kill our brother out of jealousy than find well-differentiated healthy ways of being together.

  8. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Thanks, Nicole, for putting a smile on my face yet again!
    Your question, “How do we really convince those we lead that “no pain, no gain” is not where we need to be?” is an important one to ask. I am wondering how much of this is a 1st world thought process or at the very least fed by the Hollywood idea of life. We seem to all love a great hero story and desire those same results, but it seems few are willing to press through the pain.

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