Michael W.P. Fortunato, Theodore R. Alter

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


Innovation is the wellspring of new ideas, businesses, and solutions to the challenges of everyday life. Less of a focus, perhaps due to its negative connotations, is risk. While it is broadly understood that risk is essential to return, there is a great deal of effort given to reducing risk through the institutionalization of economic action; from systematizing innovation processes to creating universal “best practices” for success. In a contrarian voice, Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book Antifragile catalyzed debate about the hidden risks of these institutional attempts to remove risk in everything from medicine to computers, governments to social systems. At the heart of this debate is his criticism of the human impulse to control human behavior and action using statistical techniques as support, with the unintended result of exposing entire human systems-organizations, communities, and nation states-to the effects of black swans. Black swans are rare events with outsized, totally unexpected outcomes. They can be very negative, as in a stock market crash, or very positive, as in the development of new, disruptive technologies and ideas that improve lifestyles. Thus, Taleb asks how organizations, communities, and societies can organize themselves to benefit rather than suffer from uncertainty and disorder, embracing shocks and stressors as the necessary fuel for productive, creative new ideas. This benefit from disorder is called antifragility, and it describes perpetual improvement because of noncatastrophic (and sometimes catastrophic) disorder, standing in stark contrast to resilience, which is the phenomenon of bouncing back to a previous state of normality. While economic and community development practice seeks to find common ground across diverse actors and development strategies, a lesser focus has been on ways to embrace complexity, randomness, individuality, autonomy, and innovation as drivers of growth and development-while also respecting and building a sense of community connectedness from the illusion of disconnected action. In this chapter, we examine ways that antifragility as innovation might influence economic and community development strategy and practice for the better, while demonstrating its grounding in other theories of community and development science and practice. We present evidence of antifragility as innovation and its effects on social systems drawing from multiple applied research projects, mainly in the rural development space. And we investigate not only the social strategies supporting antifragile action but also individual strategies, behaviors, and action steps that contribute to a more antifragile innovation environment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationBuilding Rural Community Resilience through Innovation and Entrepreneurship
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages26
ISBN (Electronic)9781000538397
ISBN (Print)9781032014210
StatePublished - Jan 1 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Engineering
  • General Arts and Humanities
  • General Social Sciences


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