Saturday Morning Rounds September 19th, 2020 - How to become an "Antifragile" negotiator

Posted by BossB, MD on September 19, 2020
BossB, MD

Saturday Morning Rounds

A weekly round-up of career & negotiation content for women physicians

What got our attention

Antifragile by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

Ya know that feeling when you read a book and then you can't stop seeing its concepts literally everywhere you look? Like you've added a new lens through which to view the world?

Well, this is one of those books for us.

Matter of fact, this might be the single best non-fiction book we've ever read (and we read A LOT of 'em). We just finished it a couple weeks ago and can't wait to dive back in for our first re-read.

Why the effusive praise? Because in Antifragile, Taleb:
  • Presents a truly original and iconoclastic core idea - that the uncertainty, volatility, and stress which we often try to remove from modern systems are actually nature's way of improving things, and that the more we smooth out short-term volatility the more expose ourselves to huge long-term downside
  • Convincingly shows this concept at work in a wide variety of fields, from medicine to investing to politics and just about everywhere in-between
  • Provides real-world, tangible ways that you can apply the concept(s) to improve your own thinking and life

Reading this book helped to flatten out the emotional roller coaster that is living in 2020, and provided not only a real tangible sense of increased calm and equanimity in the face of all this uncertainty - it also provided us ideas on how to make that uncertainty work in our favor.

Taleb is a bit of a pugilist, so be forewarned that he does like to pick some fights, and that he doesn't spare the field of medicine their turn in the ring. That being said, if you read this book and expose yourself to the ideas therein, you'll come out of the experience with either:

  1. A new and improved worldview, or
  2. A much more solid grounding in your existing one 
Either way, it's entertaining and well written, so even if you disagree with what he presents you'll likely enjoy the experience of reading it. Cannot recommend highly enough.
Who we're following 

Taleb (@nntaleb) is also one of the most interesting, least predictable Tweeters we follow. We don't always agree with what he says but he never fails to make us think - definitely worth a follow if you're into that kinda thing.

BBMD tip of the week

The approach to negotiations that we teach in our curriculum is all about keeping things simple and limiting what you have to focus on. You're never going to get enough reps in to become better at all the negotiation skills than your MBA-wielding, business-person counterpart, so it's our job to make sure you can out-maneuver them on just a couple of the most important basics, where it really counts.

To do so, we always encourage our students to focus on maximizing 2 variables in a negotiation:

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In his book, Taleb presents the idea of "Optionality" as one of the core strategies for creating antifragility, and it maps perfectly to the idea of maximizing your informational advantage and emotional resonance. In his own words:

"Options, any options, by allowing you more upside than downside, are vectors of antifragility.

If you 'have optionality,' you don’t have much need for what is commonly called intelligence, knowledge, insight, skills, and these complicated things that take place in our brain cells. For you don’t have to be right that often. All you need is the wisdom to not do unintelligent things to hurt yourself (some acts of omission) and recognize favorable outcomes when they occur. (The key is that your assessment doesn’t need to be made beforehand, only after the outcome.)

Option = asymmetry + rationality

The mechanism of optionlike trial and error (the fail-fast model), a.k.a. convex tinkering. Low-cost mistakes, with known maximum losses, and large potential payoff (unbounded). A central feature of positive Black Swans."

Seeking an informational advantage means that you know your counterpart's stance before you reveal yours, which gives you the option of orienting toward them in the most adaptive way possible. One of the best examples of this is finding out their pre-defined pay range for a job before telling them what you make today or are hoping to make.

Seeking emotional resonance also provides a great deal more options to you because it's a way of amassing more "chips to spend" interpersonally. If someone has goodwill toward you and is feeling positive "vibes," they're more likely to go along with what you present, more likely to make concessions to keep those good vibes flowing, and less likely to say or do something that would turn things sour.

These two factors, when combined, create a positive feedback loop that just works. After reading Antifragile, we now understand more deeply why it works, which means that we can get even better at the skills and their application.

Quote we're contemplating


“Fight for the things that you care about. But do it in a way that will lead others to join you.”

“You can disagree without being disagreeable.”

“So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.”

“Feminism … I think the simplest explanation, and one that captures the idea, is a song that Marlo Thomas sang, 'Free to be You and Me.' Free to be, if you were a girl—doctor, lawyer, Indian chief. Anything you want to be. And if you’re a boy, and you like teaching, you like nursing, you would like to have a doll, that’s OK too. That notion that we should each be free to develop our own talents, whatever they may be, and not be held back by artificial barriers—manmade barriers, certainly not heaven sent.”

“Another often-asked question when I speak in public: “Do you have some good advice you might share with us?” Yes, I do. It comes from my savvy mother-in-law, advice she gave me on my wedding day. “In every good marriage,” she counseled, “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.” I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through fifty-six years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court of the United States. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.”

- The Hon. Ruth Bader Ginsberg (1933-2020)

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Have a wonderful weekend, y'all!