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

The Land Beyond Tempered Resilience

Written by: on October 27, 2022

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb proved to be a challenging read for me. Subtitled “things that gain from disorder,” this philosophy book dealing with information theory caused me to stop reading and start watching some explanatory videos about the book. One video, in particular, influenced my post, and I need to acknowledge the source that guided my reflections.[1] After the videos, I began to read again with some helpful context. Antifragile offers a way to create a map for living well in a world we do not understand due to randomness, variability, and uncertainty. Seven books comprise this volume, with each internal “book” serving as a section unpacking one subject theme.

Taleb’s Prologue includes his premise, “Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk.”[2] Fragile systems and people desire peace and predictability. The opposite would be that which likes and benefits from volatility. The author believes we do not have proper verbiage for the opposite of fragile. Hence the word “antifragile.” Taleb argues against labeling “robust” or resilient as the opposite of fragile. Building on his illustration of blowing wind, a candle gets extinguished by it. The candle is fragile to volatility. In contrast, a lit torch encountering the same wind bends and flickers, but resilience allows it to regain its previous state when the gust subsides. Resilience results in a return to the previous place. Beyond resilience is antifragile, which like a wildfire stoked by the wind, becomes something more significant and stronger by the encounter. According to Taleb, people, systems, and organizations can all be fragile, resilient, or antifragile.

Certain practices can lead an individual or an organization toward antifragility. One step consists in capping one’s downside rather than increasing the upside. Asking oneself if they have more to gain or lose helps to know if a commitment is worth following pursuing. When there is more to lose than gain, fragility ensues. “Mitigating fragility is not an option but a requirement.”[3] One who works through potential loss does not become fragile if that loss becomes a reality. When loss gets processed, it allows for the complete enjoyment of that exceeds the processed loss. This emotional processing of potential loss contradicts recent streams of thought found in books like The Secret and The Power of Positive Thinking that encourage positivity and envisioning the perfect life. The result of entertaining loss produces less fear of uncertainty, randomness, and stress. Rather than fearing the loss of what one has, the consideration of loss allows one to experience the enjoyment of what one has.

Another step toward antifragility includes finding and enduring measured stress. “For the antifragile, shocks bring more benefits as their intensity increases (up to a point).”[4] As a personal illustration of what I believe Taleb means, I use an illustration from my running days. I ran five days a week for years at a consistent pace and a relatively similar distance. My goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon at a specific time eluded me. Eventually, I followed a training plan that varied the runs over fourteen weeks, using slow-paced long runs, fast-paced but shorter tempo runs, and repetitive hill training. Rather than running consistently, the stresses of differing inputs resulted in the qualifying time not being achieved by a middling approach found through consistency. Good stress can produce improvements not found in the middle ground of consistency.

A third practical way toward antifragility comes from applying knowledge gained from learned experience. Taleb critiques the belief that knowledge exists only in the academic realm. Instead, he points toward learning expanded from what he calls “tinkering.”[5] Using an illustration of a recipe, he demonstrates that tinkering with ingredients can produce a better dish; thus, a gain has been made. Conversely, if the result is a worse dish, nothing has been lost. This principle sounds much like Michael Polanyi’s idea of embodied learning or learning gained through experience. We know more than we are taught in a formal context.

As I apply Taleb’s complex argument to leadership, I think of the tendency of an organization like the church to desire peace and resist change. Taleb used an illustration of a stock portfolio better situated with eighty percent invested safely and twenty percent invested in risky ventures rather than investing one hundred percent in moderate risk.[6] In a pastoral role, I wonder: am I willing to take certain calculated risks that have the potential for long-term benefit, or am I settling for the middle ground that has a long-term negative effect? In ministry, our calling is to pursue to heart and values of God rather than maintain a peace born out of fear. Adaptive changes bring risk and uncertainty to organizations. Tod Bolsinger guided church leaders toward “tempered resilience.” I believe Taleb would say, “There’s a place beyond resilience called antifragile where the gains can be substantial.”

[1] Joe Ochman, “Antifragile by Nassim Taleb,” Core Message 2021, accessed October 22, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oAJy45NWjmY.

[2] Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder (New York: Random House Publishing, 2014), 3.

[3] Ibid., 159.

[4] Ibid., 271.

[5] Nassim Nicholas Taleb, “Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder,” Google Talks April 10, 2013, accessed October 23, 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S3REdLZ8Xis.

[6] Ibid.Tale

About the Author


Roy Gruber

Husband, father, pastor, student, and sojourner in Babylon

8 responses to “The Land Beyond Tempered Resilience”

  1. Kayli Hillebrand says:

    Roy: While you say this was a challenging read, and I’d agree, you seem to certainly have gained clarity as you dove into it and the other resources. What a wonderful analysis and practical connections to the reading.

    You state, “Good stress can produce improvements not found in the middle ground of consistency.” Tying this statement to your questions in the final paragraph, can you identify areas where the church is sitting in the middle ground and perhaps needs to welcome good stress in?

    • mm Roy Gruber says:

      Kayli, thanks for you question. As I think of myself resisting stress in the past, I think of times I knew a staff member was not working out. A change should have been made sooner than I acted on it. Part of that was due to the stress that comes when staff is let go. People ask questions and/or gossip with false information. I’d like to think I’ve learned that lesson, but it is never an easy time. Right now, we are bumping up against a space constraint. If we want to continue to grow, the building will become a barrier to that sooner rather than later. Building project are among my least favorite things to do in ministry. At the same time, those projects clarify vision if it is done well.

  2. mm Eric Basye says:

    Excellent blog. First, I had not idea there were videos explaining this book! Crazy… wish I had known that!

    Great example with the running and the end statement: “I believe Taleb would say, “There’s a place beyond resilience called antifragile where the gains can be substantial.'”

    I saw your comment on my blog regarding a theology fo suffering ( I will respond soon). However, as you think about discipline and raising up leaders in the next generation, and global ones at that, will this statement works its way into your leadership develop strategy?

  3. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Roy: I like your connection to Bolsinger at the end of your post. I think you’re right, Taleb goes further in that we should prepare for change and learn to benefit from it–and not just withstand it. You have a lot of experience of doing church ministry, have you in the past applied the idea of antifragility to your ministry? The only thing I can think of is in this post-covid world, where more people are on-line, a church that looks at this disruption and takes advantage of it would be considered antifragile.

  4. mm Andy Hale says:


    I found this book to be very applicable to leadership but difficult to apply it to pastoral ministry. On the one hand, he takes the concepts that Bolsinger tries to tackle but builds a much deeper philosophical foundation for expanding our emotional and mental response to challenges. On the other hand, there is so much of the business and finance world that does not apply within the theological world of the church. For example, I can’t imagine a world in which a pastor does not respond to the emotional challenges people face with a “suck it up” mentality.

  5. Elmarie Parker says:

    Roy, thank you so very much for your tenacious engagement with Taleb’s book! And for the video resource! I see your pastor’s heart and experience so visible in how you described three practical pathways towards developing a deeper antifragility in one’s life or church/organization. You took Taleb’s complex arguments and made them accessible. Great work!

    What is the most pressing adaptive challenge facing you and/or your congregation right now and how might you practice one or more of the practical pathways you describe in order to navigate that challenge with greater antifragility?

  6. mm Nicole Richardson says:

    You say, “As I apply Taleb’s complex argument to leadership, I think of the tendency of an organization like the church to desire peace and resist change. ” In South Africa, we heard Pastor Zondi? talk about leadership around consensus. How might antifragility impact that kind of leadership? Are there ways these can be woven together?

  7. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Roy, thank you for your post. I was particularly drawn to the section about risk assessment. This statement, “When there is more to lose than gain, fragility ensues. “Mitigating fragility is not an option but a requirement,” got me thinking. How does this fit into the apparent all-in invitation of Jesus for us to follow him? I know that the scripture doesn’t conflict with itself, just my understanding of it. I am aware of parts of the Bible that clearly encourage us to be good stewards and to be prepared. What are your thoughts?

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