From the late Middle English, derived from the French provocatif, originating as the late Latin provocativus, meaning to call forth or challenge.
Provocative is deliberate and healthy when taking on the status quo – whether we find this in our own lives or within some corporate expression of life.
Nassim Taleb explores the effects of stressors on the fragile and antifragile: imagine dropping pottery espresso cup* one inch a thousand times – it will survive this minor stress; now imagine dropping the same cup one thousand inches just the once – I’ll need to buy a new cup.
What if the same cup were able to learn from its many small stress experiences and adapt – a little like the Borg? It might even become unbreakable, or robust.
Of course, cups aren’t able to do this.
We are able to learn from, and adapt to, the small stressors of life, making it possible to face larger ones. Taleb isn’t suggesting robust is the opposite of fragile, rather, antifragile is the opposite: ‘For the antifragile, shock brings more benefits (equivalently less harm) as their intensity increases (up to a point).’
Antifragilistas** learn to see which stressors or nonlinearities have more upside than downside: the risks worth taking.
The status quo is powerful, though, because its squared off all the round edges so it can’t be rolled, and it has mass.
The same things make it fragile.
We can provoke ourselves by learning new things, reading different subjects, engaging in new activities, meeting new people, asking questions we’ve never asked before (and then asking more) – we challenge our values and worldviews.
Along the way, we begin to notice we like certain things and people a lot, and we begin to integrate these into our lives (so now we’re adapting). We discover we can take larger risks as we proceed, and begin things, unafraid of failure, willing to learn (stressors are the means by which we move from fragile to robust to antifragile).
From reacting – fragile and breakable, we begin to respond – we are robust because we can resist breakage, and then we begin to initiate – antifragilistas live provocative lives.
I think there’s a caveat to this. None of us will be antifragile to everything, which is where an antifragile community, or communitas, is necessary.
The status quo must then beware.
(*My first drink of the day.)
(**Taleb uses the term fragilista for someone who is prone to live fragilely.)