Why MIT is Teaching Entrepreneurs Anti-fragility

Framework curated by Luke DeCoste, Entrepreneur-in-Residence and MindFrame Connect Advisor

Entrepreneurs Need Anti-fragility

"Anti-fragility is important. Entrepreneurship is important. And the two are basically the same," argues Bill Aulet. Aulet is worth listening to on the topic. He is a serial entrepreneur turned MIT professor of Management that has influenced entrepreneurs globally through his work.  

Aulet wants entrepreneurs to know three things about anti-fragility:

  1. How anti-fragility will help them,
  2. That anti-fragility can be built, and
  3. How entrepreneurs can build anti-fragility.

To help achieve these goals, Aulet and his colleagues assembled an Anti-fragile Entrepreneurship Speaker Series. We’ll draw on it heavily here as we describe how to build anti-fragile individuals, teams, and organizations.

What is Anti-fragility?

To start, let's talk about what anti-fragility is and how it compares to fragility and resilience.

The term anti-fragility was popularized by risk expert, author, and investor Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

He identified how some things, which he called anti-fragile, benefit from shock, thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure risk, and uncertainty.

Aulet elaborates on the concept by situating anti-fragility in a continuum. In the face of adversity:

  • Fragility is the negative condition - where something breaks.
  • Resilience is the neutral condition - where it bounces back.
  • Anti-fragility is the positive condition - where it gets stronger.

MIT’s Approach to Building anti-fragility

When the Covid-19 pandemic unmoored entrepreneurs, Aulet and his colleagues set about helping these venture-builders develop anti-fragility. To do this, the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, where Aulet is the Managing Director, launched an Anti-fragile Entrepreneurship Speaker Series. The freely available series from a diverse group of speakers, which you can access here, features a former Navy Seal, entrepreneurs, academics, and investors. We’ll present ideas from those talks under MindFrame Connect’s four pillars for facing adversity - behavioural, cognitive, emotional, and social.  


As an example of a behavioral approach, in her clip from the series, Arlan Hamilton talks about how exercising more helps her in stressful times. If you’re looking for a model of strength in the face of adversity, Arlan, who is a female person of colour and member of the LGBTQ+ community, built a venture capital fund for underestimated founders like her. She did this from the ground up, while homeless.  

Arlan notes that during the pandemic she adopted new habits for her well-being like exercise. During exercise, she notes, our muscles break down, but then rebuild stronger - an excellent example of anti-fragility. Exercise helps entrepreneurs respond better in many areas, including helping with decision-making, emotion regulation, and connecting with others.  


Learning to notice, and regulate our emotions is another key step for building anti-fragility according to several speakers in the series. In a fragile response, we are unaware of our emotions, and stressful events in our company contribute to a sense of panic. Describing an active warzone experience in his talk, retired US Navy Seal Jocko Willink says that when adversity strikes, we need to step back from problems, step back from the chaos, and step back from our emotions in order to assess what is really happening.

This idea is taken one step further in a talk by opera singer, MIT grad, serial founder, and entrepreneurship coach, Kathleen Stetson, who teaches self-awareness to entrepreneurs in MIT’s Delta V accelerator. She provides these entrepreneurs with a four-step approach for noticing and addressing unhelpful thoughts, feelings, and sensations:

  1. Notice our thoughts, feelings, and sensations (e.g., I’m annoyed at a co-founder)
  2. Label our thoughts, feelings, and sensations, (e.g., I’m annoyed at my co-founder often)
  3. Getting curious about them (e.g., why am i so frequently annoyed by them?)
  4. Intentionally make choices about how to proceed (e.g., I’ll talk to a professional about it)

This framework helps founders gain the needed perspective of how their automatic responses might be driving them to unproductive behaviours. Kathleen has taught entrepreneurs mindfulness strategies to help them notice their thoughts. Both she and Jocko talk about the importance of taking a pause and taking a breath in a stressful situation. This helps calm us so we can more objectively evaluate the situation and take productive steps forward.


Anti-fragility brings significant benefits when developed in the cognitive realm. One instance of this is adopting a problem-solving mindset as highlighted in a talk by Dr. Tina Seelig, esteemed Professor of Practice in Stanford University’s Department of Management Science and Engineering. Dr. Seelig challenges entrepreneurs to look at constraints as opportunities instead of obstacles to achieving their goals.

A great example of this is Canadian start-up Side Door which helps organize concerts in people’s homes. When the pandemic jeopardized their business model, they leaned into this constraint by hosting online concert experiences to help artists who had lost revenue, and a society on lockdown desperate for entertainment and connection. This increased Side Door’s impact, allowing them to grow their audience during the pandemic.


Beyond anti-fragile individuals, Aulet says we also need to create anti-fragile teams and organizations. He identifies three elements needed for this: a common vision, shared values, and complementary skills.

Not only does a common vision motivate and inspire teams, but it also clarifies the path forward when adversity strikes. By sticking to its vision of supporting artists and audiences, Side Door was able to thrive through the pandemic.

Shared values help build trust in good times, but they can also help teams make decisions in a crisis. A famous example of this occurred when bottles of Tylenol were found to contain cyanide, resulting in the death of 7 people. Johnson and Johnson, which produces Tylenol, sought guidance from their values statement which said, “We believe our first responsibility is to the patients, doctors and nurses, to mothers and fathers and all others who use our products and services.” This helped them quickly decide to recall products nationwide and to re-issue a tamper-proof version of their bottles. These moves cost them hundreds of millions of dollars at the time, but have helped Tylenol become the trusted, billion-dollar brand it is today.

Lastly, Aulet says anti-fragile teams need complementary skills. This highlights the importance of embracing diversity as we build our companies. When adversity strikes, teams made of people from diverse backgrounds have been shown to make better decisions.

Continuing to Build Individual and Team Anti-fragility

As Aulet notes, the world is only going to get faster from here, and to thrive as entrepreneurs, we need to learn anti-fragility for ourselves, our teams, and our organizations.

As you embark on that journey, the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, and our team at MindFrame Connect hope that frameworks like those presented here will help you along the way.  

If you’d like to learn more about any of our offerings at MindFrame Connect, visit www.mindframeconnect.com


MIT Sloan’s ‘Antifragile’ Entrepreneurship Series MIT Sloan
Staying Mentally Strong MIT Sloan
Decision Making in a Crisis MIT Sloan
Creativity in a Crisis MIT Sloan
Side Door: Landing page Side Door

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