I read Anti-Fragile, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. In it, he describes an approach to things called the “barbell.” That means doing the opposing extremes of things to mitigate risk, yet still have a large upside potential. An example of this would be to invest 90% of your money in extremely safe investments while investing the remaining 10% in highly speculative investments that have a massive upside potential. Don’t invest in anything in between, because that is where there is the highest risk of some random event (a “Black Swan event”) shattering the system and driving you broke.
You can take the barbell approach to most things in life. Books and technology are two things that come to mind immediately, and that I can implement now.
Anti-Fragile discusses books, saying that the older ones that stood the test of time are the ones worth reading. To take a barbell approach, I would also add that many of the newest books are also worth reading. That’s because some of the newest books are a culmination of much past knowledge and present new ideas that perhaps have never been written about before. All the books between the newest and the oldest fall within that thin territory between the weights of the barbell, likely to be of little value to us.
At one extreme, it is best to read the ancient works of literature that have not been swallowed by history. On the other extreme, we should also read the best new works of literature. Fortunately, with modern rating systems and the Internet, it is relatively easy to determine whether something is worth reading or not. I go to the Amazon.com bestseller lists and choose the best-selling books that have many reviews (preferably in the thousands), and the reviews are overwhelmingly positive (preferably 4.5 stars or higher).
The same barbell approach can also apply to technology. You would assume that any ancient technology still in use today—cooking utensils, vehicles, books, tools—are still in use because they are superior. That is, they get the job done with little or no downside. These are technologies that we should continue using.
On the other side of the technology barbell is new technology. We should always be trying out new technology, but never get too dependent on it. Keeping the barbell philosophy, we want the dependability of old technology, but also have the upside potential gains of new technology. That way, we can continue to get things done with the old technology even through power outages, server failures, and zombie apocalypses. We can also have the benefits of new technology, as long as we don’t depend on any of it to survive, such as smartphones, e-readers, and cloud data storage. Everything in between gives us less gain with more risk (televisions, high-fructose corn syrup, and the atomic bomb).
So take the barbell approach to books and technology. Embrace both the old and the new. You will be just a little bit more anti-fragile for it.