Is Your Farm A Crystal Hippopotamus?

In 2012, Nassim Nicholas Taleb published, Anti-Fragile: Things That Gain From Disorder, a book that leaves you asking yourself if you’ve not just created a stable life, but an Anti-Fragile one.

Taleb’s first book, The Black Swan (nothing to do with the movie), predicted the financial crisis of 2008, and focused on the possibility of the unexpected and rare events to disrupt and create uncertainty. This book picks back up the theme of uncertainty in systems, and asks what if there was something that got better when things got bad, rather than breaking.

The Idea

Most people use the term “robust” or “resilient” to describe something that is the opposite of fragile. However, if we are looking at a true opposite, than it must be something that gains from disorder and damage, rather than something that simply withstands the damage.

The crystal hippo your aunt Mildred gave you for Christmas is (thankfully) fragile. When it lands at the bottom of your garbage bin, it breaks into a thousand pieces. On it’s opposite side is a houseplant, one that you may or may not like. The houseplant when exposed to the elements outdoors, improves and gets stronger.

Application Rates

On the farm, you have to determine if you are farming in fragility, or poised for success when things go wrong. The fragile farmer places his bets on one crop, one breed, one or at least few options to keep the farm afloat. Without diversification, all that needs to happen is that one buyer to say, “Don’t think we need that.” And the farm will cease to exist.

Carrying this further, a farm that has taken on large debts carries fragility to its core. All it takes is the note to be recalled and the farm will cease to exist, all it takes is one disaster and the farmer is looking for a new job.

On it’s opposite side is the farmer who embraces uncertainty and anti-fragility. His crops and income are diversified, raising a multitude of various species so that he doesn’t go broke from a crop failure. More than that, he looks for where and how his farm can benefit in bad times.


Anti-Fragile is a philosophical treatise on mathematical uncertainty and the ability to survive and thrive in uncertainty. Consequently, it is not a book for the average reader. If you are a ravenous reader than you may enjoy the book, but more likely you are better off reading this review and reviewing the questions bellow. It is a powerful idea if you can implement it.

Cultivated Questions:
  • Is my farm fragile?
  • Where am I at risk with my crops and livestock?
  • Are there any opportunities for diversifying crops, products or buyers?
  • How can I set my farm up to succeed in uncertainty?