This is a summary review of Antifragile containing key details about the book.
What is Antifragile About?
Just as human bones get stronger when subjected to stress and tension, and rumors or riots intensify when someone tries to repress them, many things in life benefit from stress, disorder, volatility, and turmoil. What the author has identified and calls “antifragile” is that category of things that not only gain from chaos but need it in order to survive and flourish.
In Antifragile, the author stands uncertainty on its head, making it desirable, even necessary, and proposes that things be built in an antifragile manner. The antifragile is beyond the resilient or robust. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better and better.
Furthermore, the antifragile is immune to prediction errors and protected from adverse events. The book spans innovation by trial and error, life decisions, politics, urban planning, war, personal finance, economic systems, and medicine.
Who is the Author of Antifragile?
Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a Lebanese-American essayist, mathematical statistician, former option trader, risk analyst, and aphorist whose work concerns problems of randomness, probability, and uncertainty. His is one of the foremost thinkers of our time, reveals how to thrive in an uncertain world. Taleb spent more than two decades as a risk taker before becoming a full-time essayist and scholar focusing on practical, philosophical, and mathematical problems with chance, luck, and probability. His focus in on how different systems handle disorder.
[Favorite Quote]: “The more energy you put into trying to control your ideas and what you think about, the more your ideas end up controlling you." (Meaning)
- Print length: 544 pages
- Audiobook: 16 hours and 14 minutes
- Genre: Nonfiction, Philosophy, Business, Economics, Psychology, Career Success
What are the main summary points of Antifragile?
Here are some key summary points from Antifragile:
- Fragile systems are vulnerable to stress and disruption, while robust systems can withstand stress and remain unchanged, but antifragile systems actually benefit from stress and become stronger as a result. Antifragile systems often have a high level of diversity and decentralization, which allows them to adapt to changing conditions.
- Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile strengthens from volatility and gets better.
- Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure, risk, and uncertainty. Unlike fragile items, which break when put under stress, antifragile items benefit from it and respond to these events by becoming stronger and more intact. The process of evolution is a perfect example of antifragility; it thrives in a volatile environment. With each shock, evolution forces life forms to adapt and transform.
- The antifragility of a system depends on the fragility of its constituent parts. In order for the system as a whole to be antifragile, most of its parts has to be fragile. Why? Because the failures and successes of each individual part provide the information as to what works and what doesn’t. An example of this is the economy; for the economy to evolve and grow, it requires some of its parts to fail.
- Shocks strengthen antifragile systems by forcing them to build up more capacity. Exercising is a good example of this; When we exercise we put our bodies through positive stress. And by doing so, our bodies grow stronger and improve their capacity to deal with possible future shocks
- Tranquility and overly relaxed environments lead to fragile systems. What antifragile systems need is volatility, shocks and stressors, due to the fact they determine which sub-units are to survive and which are to fail. When we prevent volatility and uncertainty in our systems, we are building up the flammable material for a big firestorm. In other words, natural volatility can help prevent a larger crisis.
- Most man-made items, (e.g. washing machines, phones, computers, etc) are not antifragile. The majority of them will eventually wear down and break after repeated use.
- To take advantage of an antifragile system, such as the economy or even life itself, we don’t need to understand its complexity, just to seize opportunities we see; For example, we don’t need to understand complicated economic theories to succeed with trading; we just need to know when to buy and when to sell. To say it differently, we place far too much value on theoretical knowledge and not enough on practical knowledge. What's more it's much wiser to live happily in a world that we don’t fully understand.
- We can't predict the future but we can prepare for it by making ourselves antifragile, remembering that volatility is what keeps us strong and tranquility is what makes us weak.
- We cannot go through life without encountering periods of volatility and uncertainty. Eventually life throws stuff at us, such as economic collapses or natural disasters. Therefore, to become more antifragile, we need to manage our risks so we can benefit from those unpredictable situations. For example, if we ensure that the majority of our financial assets are secure against unpredictable market collapses, we can be ready for such shocks. We can then allocate a small percentage of our portfolio to highly volatile and speculative assets that we can profit from. The upsides could be big, but the downside would only be a small percentage.
- Similar to how food would not have a taste if it weren’t for hunger; results are meaningless without effort, joy without sadness, and convictions without uncertainty. Difficulty is what wakes up the genius.
- The more energy we put into trying to control our ideas and what we think about, the more our ideas end up controlling us
- The larger the system is, the harder it will be hit by unforeseen crises. For example, technology and globalization have transformed the world economy into one complex system, making it more vulnerable to crises and unpredictable circumstances. In times of a big financial collapse or stock market crash, for instance, it’s quite certain that almost every country will be impacted.
- Making predictions about the future based on our narrow view of the past can lead to catastrophic consequences when the predicted events don’t happen
- As society, we require randomness and the antifragility it creates, in order to bring about real transformation and human progress
- To create a more antifragile society, we need to embrace local knowledge, traditions, and decentralized decision-making, and avoid over-centralization and over-reliance on experts and elites.
- Many of the systems and institutions that we rely on today are fragile, and we need to find ways to make them more antifragile in order to better withstand stress and disruption.
- The way we approach risk and uncertainty plays a crucial role in determining whether a system is fragile, robust, or antifragile. In order to create antifragile systems, it is important to embrace uncertainty and challenge, build resilience, and learn from failures.
What are key takeaways from Antifragile?
Key Takeaway #1: Antifragile Systems need Fragile Components
Fragile items break when put under stress but antifragile items benefit from harm, shock, and volatile situations. It's this antifragility that has fueled human progress through the ages so don't shy away from the bumps and bruises that life throws at you, embrace them and learn to manage them
In order for a system to be antifragile, it must have some fragile components. Natural and biological systems are usually antifragile since they are incredibly complex and can self-improve through trial and error (just take evolution as an example) whilst man-made items are usually fragile which the exception of a few artificial systems man has created such as the economy.
Every antifragile system must have some components that die in order to make the system stronger. In an evolution that can be seen with extinction whilst the economy can only become stronger due to some of its components (businesses) failing. In our unpredictable and volatile world, every antifragile system has to be able to learn from its mistakes because tranquility leads to fragility.
Key Takeaway #2: Making Yourself Antifragile
Antifragile systems can be difficult to understand due to their complexity and unpredictability but you don't need to be educated to take advantage of them, you just need to know when to seize the opportunities and how to manage the risks.
It's no good trying to avoid being antifragile as it just doesn't work – everyone will go through times of uncertainty and vulnerability at some point in their life whether that's due to a natural disaster, an economic collapse, or other crises. The trick is to accept that there will be both good times and bad times and to domesticate the uncertainty rather than ignore or attempt to avoid it. Essentially you need to have a plan in place so that when volatile shocks do hit you, you swim rather than sink. Using the economy as an example, antifragile people ensure that 90% of their assets are safe from potentially disastrous risks ie an unexpected market collapse. The other 10% of assets are used in highly volatile areas where the individual might hit gold but if a shock does hit, they haven't risked and lost it all.
Key Takeaway #3: The Dangers of Eliminating Volatility
Today, we often undervalue antifragility, attempting to remain in the space between positive and negative, that 'safe ground'. The government tries to intervene in the volatile cycle of boom and bust in order to control the economy to make it more tranquil and efficient but they do more harm than good - Volatility is vital for antifragility so when it is removed or contained, problems lie dormant under the surface, growing bigger and bigger until one day they explode.
Another problem we humans suffer from is predicting the future using a false narrative of the past and creating contingency plans based on past events, not thinking that a bigger more devastating event could happen tomorrow. Just take the Fukushima nuclear reactor for example – it was built to withstand the biggest earthquake that we had ever experienced at that time with no thought that a bigger earthquake could and did happen in 2011.
Chapter One - Between Damocles and Hydra
Chapter Two - Overcompensation and Overreaction Everywhere
Chapter Three - The Cat and the Washing Machine
Chapter Four - What Kills Me Makes Others Stronger
Chapter Five - The Souk and the Office Building
Chapter Six - Tell Them I Love (Some) Randomness
Chapter Seven - Naive Intervention
Chapter Eight - Prediction as a Child of Modernity
Chapter Nine - Fat Tony and the Fragilistas
Chapter Ten - Seneca's Upside and Downside
Chapter Eleven - Never Marry the Rock Star
Chapter Twelve - Thale's Sweet Grapes
Chapter Thirteen - Lecturing Birds on How to Fly
Chapter Fourteen - When Two Things Are Not the "Same Thing"
Chapter Fifteen - History Written by the Losers
Chapter Sixteen - A Lesson in Disorder
Chapter Seventeen - Fat Tony Debates Socrates
Chapter Eighteen - On the Difference Between a Large Stone and a Thousand Pebbles
Chapter Nineteen - The Philosopher's Stone and Its Inverse
Chapter Twenty - Time and Fragility
Chapter Twenty-One - Medicine, Convexity, and Opacity
Chapter Twenty-Two - To Live Long, but Not Too Long
Chapter Twenty-Three - Skin in the Game: Antifragility and Optionality at the Expense of Others
Chapter Twenty-Four - Fitting Ethics to a Profession
Antifragile Summary Notes
Here are a few summary notes from the book:
1. The Antifragile Triad
Taleb introduces the Antifragile Triad, which comprises three attributes: 1. Antifragility, 2. Optionality, and 3. Convexity. According to Taleb, the Antifragile Triad is a powerful framework for understanding and thriving in a world that is increasingly complex, uncertain, and unpredictable.
Taleb argues that most people and institutions tend to focus on the first attribute of the triad - fragility - and overlook the other two attributes. Fragility refers to things that are harmed by volatility, uncertainty, and shocks. In contrast, antifragility refers to things that benefit from them, while optionality refers to having the ability to choose from a range of possible outcomes. Convexity refers to the positive asymmetry of risk, where the potential upside is much greater than the potential downside.
Taleb provides numerous examples to illustrate the Antifragile Triad, such as the human body's immune system, natural selection, and entrepreneurship. He argues that embracing antifragility, optionality, and convexity can help individuals and organizations not only survive but thrive in a world that is becoming increasingly complex, uncertain, and volatile.
2. The Dominance of the Stubborn Minority
Taleb explores the concept of minority rule, in which a small group of people can have a disproportionate impact on society. He argues that this is particularly true when the minority is "stubborn" or uncompromising in its beliefs.
A good example that illustrates Taleb's point is the minority of Jews who follow kosher dietary laws. Despite being a small percentage of the population, kosher-observant Jews have had an outsized impact on the food industry. Many food manufacturers and restaurants cater to their dietary requirements, which has led to a proliferation of kosher-certified products. This phenomenon occurs because the minority that follows kosher laws is uncompromising in its beliefs, while the majority is more flexible. The kosher-observant minority is willing to go to great lengths to ensure that their food is prepared according to their religious laws, while the majority is willing to make concessions and compromises.
Taleb argues that this dynamic is not limited to a specific industry, but applies to many areas of society. He suggests that it is often the stubborn and uncompromising minority that determines the direction of society, not the majority. This concept has important implications for politics, economics, and social movements. It suggests that small groups of people with strong beliefs and a willingness to stick to those beliefs can have a disproportionate impact on society.
3. Embracing Antifragile Systems
Taleb highlights the importance of antifragility in creating a resilient and adaptable society. By embracing decentralized systems, experimentation, and trial-and-error, we can create improved systems that are better able to withstand external shocks and promote long-term sustainability.
Taleb uses an analogy of a cat and a washing machine to illustrate the concept of antifragility. Taleb explains that the cat is antifragile because it has the ability to adapt and learn from its environment, making it stronger and even more resilient. The washing machine, on the other hand, is fragile because it is designed to perform a very specific task and is vulnerable to damage if it is used in any other way.
Taleb argues that society has become too reliant on systems that are fragile, such as centralized government, banking systems, and modern medicine. These systems are designed to operate within specific parameters and are vulnerable to external shocks, such as economic crises, pandemics, and natural disasters. When these systems fail, they can have catastrophic consequences for society. As we've seen many times before.
To become antifragile, Taleb suggests that we need to embrace decentralized systems that are more adaptable and resilient. This includes promoting local businesses, community-based healthcare, and political systems that encourage citizen participation. By decentralizing power and promoting diversity, we can create a more robust and antifragile society.
Taleb also discusses the importance of experimentation and trial and error in creating antifragile systems. He argues that we should be willing to take risks and learn from failures, rather than relying on static and rigid systems. By embracing uncertainty and unpredictability, we can create systems that are more adaptable and resilient to external shocks.
4. Having a Skin in the Game
The concept of "skin in the game" is a recurring theme throughout the book. In essence, the it means that those who make decisions should bear the consequences of those decisions. If you have "skin in the game," you have something to lose if your decision turns out to be a bad one and something to gain if it turns out well.
Taleb mentions that our current system is full of people who don't have "skin in the game," which leads to a host of problems. For example, politicians who make decisions that affect the lives of millions of people often have no personal consequences if their decisions turn out to be quite harmful. They continue to receive their salary and benefits, regardless of the outcome. Similarly, many bankers, CEOs, and other decision-makers in the financial industry have no personal stake in the companies they lead, which can lead to reckless behavior and a lack of accountability.
Taleb believes that the solution is to ensure that those making decisions have "skin in the game." This means that politicians should face the same consequences as their constituents, bankers should have personal stakes in the companies they lead, and CEOs should be held accountable for the actions of their companies. When people have "skin in the game," they are more likely to make careful, thoughtful decisions that consider the long-term consequences.
Moreover, Taleb argues that systems with "skin in the game" are more robust and antifragile. For instance, consider a restaurant owner who takes pride in the quality of their food and the service they provide. They have "skin in the game" because they have a personal investment in the success of their restaurant. This means that they are more likely to ensure that their staff is well-trained, that the food is prepared to a high standard, and that customers are satisfied. On the other hand, a chain restaurant manager who has no personal stake in the success of the restaurant may be more concerned with meeting corporate goals than with providing quality service.
Overall, the concept of "skin in the game" has implications for many aspects of our society. By ensuring that decision-makers have something to lose if their decisions turn out to be harmful, we can create more robust, antifragile systems that are better able to adapt to change and withstand stress.
5. Embracing Simplicity Through Negation
Sometimes the best course of action is to remove things that are harmful, rather than adding more elements to improve a situation. Taleb argues that humans are wired to add things and take action to solve problems, but sometimes doing nothing is the best option.
He argues that there are situations where adding more elements to a system can actually make it weaker, more complicated, and less effective. A good example of this is how companies often expand their product lines and offerings to increase revenue but end up diluting the quality of their products and confusing their customers. Another example is how governments often add new laws and regulations to address problems, but these can become burdensome and create unintended consequences.
Instead, Taleb suggests that the "via negative" approach (e.g. through negation) involves removing harmful elements to improve a system. This can be applied to personal habits, organizational processes, and government policies. For example, instead of adding more features to a product, companies could focus on simplifying it and improving its core functionality. Governments could remove outdated and unnecessary laws to reduce bureaucracy and promote freedom.
Taleb argues that the "via negativa" approach is more effective because it is easier to identify and remove negative elements than it is to predict and add positive ones. Additionally, removing negative elements has a compounding effect over time, as it can prevent future problems from arising.
All in all, the "via negativa" approach challenges our conventional wisdom of always trying to add more to improve a system. Instead, it emphasizes the importance of simplicity, focus, and removing negative elements to achieve greater efficiency and effectiveness.
6. Embracing a New Approach For Risk Management
Taleb explores the role of time in traditional risk management, where events are viewed in terms of their frequency and probability of occurrence. Taleb argues that this approach is flawed because it assumes that the future will be like the past, and that rare events can be predicted and managed.
Taleb introduces the concept of the Black Swan, which he defines as an event that is both unexpected and has a significant impact. He argues that Black Swans are not rare, but rather ubiquitous and that they play a critical role in shaping history. An example that illustrates his point is the 9/11 attacks - no one could have predicted such an event and its impact was profound and far-reaching.
Taleb asserts that the traditional approach to risk management is inadequate in dealing with Black Swans because it does not account for the fact that the future is inherently uncertain. He argues that the only way to manage Black Swans is to be antifragile, to have systems in place that can not only withstand but actually benefit from such events. This requires a fundamental shift in the way we think about risk, from one of prediction and control to one of adaptation and resilience.
Taleb goes on to discuss the concept of optionality, which he defines as the ability to benefit from positive Black Swans while minimizing the impact of negative ones. He argues that optionality is a critical component of antifragility and that it is achieved through a combination of flexibility and diversification. By maintaining a portfolio of diverse assets and activities, for example, individuals and organizations can create a form of "insurance" against the negative effects of Black Swans while positioning themselves to benefit from positive ones.
What are some top quotes from Antifragile?
“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
“Difficulty is what wakes up the genius”
“Only the autodidacts are free.”
― Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile Quotes
What is the main benefit of being antifragile?
The benefits of being antifragile are pretty dang clear. When life throws you a curveball (and it will), you don't just survive – you thrive. You come out stronger on the other side, ready to take on whatever the world has in store for you next. It's like building up a callus, so the next time you get a blister, it won't hurt so much. By being antifragile, you'll develop a resilience that will serve you in every area of your life. You'll be more creative, more adaptable, more confident. You'll be the kind of person who can weather any storm, and come out on top.
How do I become Antifragile?
Antifragility means growing and getting stronger in the face of stressors. Thus, to consider the question “How can we become antifragile?” we want to think about the qualities that will allow us to grow when exposed to uncertainty, volatility and disorder. For example, choosing to learn rather than feeling like a victim, being curious and using a growth mindset rather than a fixed mindset, reflecting regularly and learning for mistakes, taking risks and stepping out of your comfort zone, and creating backup strategies for extreme events and planning for the worst. In other words, a key step towards becoming antifragile is to make sure that we are not only resilient enough to stress but can also grow and thrive from adversity. This means being able to cope with small failures, large failures, and everything in between.
To become antifragile, you could try to adopt some of the following strategies:
1. Embrace uncertainty and challenge: Antifragile systems thrive on change and adapt to it. To become antifragile, try to embrace uncertainty and challenge, rather than avoiding it or being afraid of it.
2. Build resilience: Building resilience means being able to bounce back from adversity and continue functioning despite setbacks. To build resilience, try to develop a growth mindset, practice stress-management techniques, and seek support from others when needed.
3. Diversity and decentralization: Antifragile systems often have a high level of diversity and decentralization, which allows them to adapt to changing conditions. To become more antifragile, try to diversify your experiences, skills, and resources, and seek out opportunities to decentralize decision-making.
4. Learn from failures: Antifragile systems learn from failures and use them as opportunities to improve. To become antifragile, try to view failures as learning opportunities rather than setbacks, and seek feedback and guidance from others to help you grow and improve.
What are examples of antifragile systems?
Some examples of antifragile systems include:
1. The human body. When we expose ourselves to physical stress through exercise, our muscles become stronger and more resilient. Our body benefits from stressors like exercise and becomes stronger under a certain level of pressure. Particularly, bones can be thought of as being fragile because they break when faced with too much pressure. However, muscles are antifragile because they can grow stronger when faced with some pressure.
2. Natural ecosystems: Natural ecosystems are often antifragile, as they are able to adapt to changing conditions and even thrive in the face of stressors such as natural disasters.
3. Free markets: Free markets are often seen as antifragile because they are able to adapt to changing consumer demands and shifts in the economy.
4. The internet: The internet is a decentralized network of interconnected computers, which makes it highly antifragile. Even if one part of the network goes down, the rest can continue to function.
5. Traditional cultures: Traditional cultures that have been passed down for generations are often antifragile, as they have survived and adapted to changing circumstances over time.
6. The airline industry can be seen as antifragile because when a plane crashes, the airline industry learn from it and the newer airplanes are less likely to crash.
7. The restaurant industry can be seen as antifragile: “restaurants are fragile; they compete with each other, but the collective of local restaurants is anti-fragile for that very reason. Had restaurants been individually robust, hence immortal, the overall business would be either stagnant or weak, and would deliver nothing better than cafeteria food."
8. Silicon valley can be seen as antifragile because it innovates and generally speaking, does not fear failure. Silicon valley companies use failure as a growth tool and create better products.
These are just a few examples, but there may be many other systems and structures that can be considered antifragile.
How can organizations become antifragile?
Becoming antifragile can help organizations not only survive but also thrive amidst turbulent times. However, achieving antifragility may not be an easy feat. It takes more than just being able to weather the storm. It requires an ability to adapt, grow and even flourish when faced with adversity.
To become antifragile, companies must adopt a growth mindset. They must embrace failures and use them as stepping stones to success. They must be willing to take calculated risks, learn from their mistakes, and make changes when necessary. It's all about being flexible and adaptable, like a chameleon that can change its color depending on the situation.
Companies that are antifragile don't just wait for problems to arise. They actively seek out opportunities for growth and development. They innovate and experiment, pushing the boundaries of what is possible. In short, they have a growth mindset that is constantly looking for ways to improve, evolve, and grow stronger.
Can technology be designed to be antifragile?
In the past, technology has been mostly fragile. One little bug, one little glitch, and the whole system comes crashing down like a house of cards. But what if we could make technology antifragile? What if we could design it in such a way that it actually gets stronger when it faces adversity? It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie, doesn't it? But it's not. The truth is, we are already starting to see technology become more antifragile. Take blockchain, for example. It's a technology that was specifically designed to be decentralized and distributed, which means that it can't be taken down by a single point of failure.
Is Bitcoin Antifragile?
Antifragility is defined as "a quality that makes something better able to cope with shocks, stresses, or disruptions." In other words, antifragile systems are those that improve with stressors instead of being broken by them.
Bitcoin, as a decentralized digital currency, has some characteristics that might make it considered antifragile. For example, because it is not tied to any particular country or government, it is not vulnerable to the same types of political or economic turmoil that traditional currencies may be subject to. In addition, the decentralized nature of the Bitcoin network makes it resistant to censorship and tampering, as there is no central authority that controls it.
It has been argued that bitcoin may be considered antifragile because it has survived many speculative attacks from hackers and governments, including one high profile attack from China which caused its price to briefly drop 50%. It also survived Mt Gox bankruptcy in 2014. Bitcoin has gone through many shocks, but it is still standing strong, growing its popularity globally, and getting more secure. Bitcoin's survival, adaptability and development make the case for it being an antifragile system.
However, Bitcoin is not immune to all forms of stress and disruption. For example, the value of Bitcoin can be highly volatile, and it has been subject to significant price fluctuations over time. In addition, the security of the Bitcoin network relies on the strength of its encryption, which could potentially be compromised by advances in computing power or cryptography.
Overall, it is difficult to say definitively whether Bitcoin is antifragile, as the concept of antifragility is complex and can be difficult to apply to specific systems. However, Bitcoin's decentralized and cryptographic nature do give it some qualities that may make it more resistant to certain types of stress and disruption.
Is antifragility a new concept or has it been around for a while?
Antifragility is all about gettin' stronger when faced with adversity, and that's somethin' that humans have been doing since the dawn of time. We've always had to adapt and get stronger to survive, whether it was dealin' with harsh weather, predators, or other threats. So in a way, you could say that antifragility is in our DNA. In fact, ancient philosophers like Heraclitus and Nietzsche were talking about it before it had a name. But it wasn't until recent years that the concept of antifragility was really articulated and studied.
What does it mean to have a "Skin in the Game" in the book Antiragile?
To have "skin in the game" is to have incurred risk by being involved in achieving a goal.
What is the "Lindy effect" in the book Antiragile?
A technology, or anything nonperishable, increases in life expectancy with every day of its life. So a book that has been a hundred years in print is likely to stay in print another hundred years.
What is the Barbell Strategy in Antiragile?
In finance, a barbell strategy is formed when a trader invests in long and short duration bonds, but does not invest in intermediate duration bonds. Taleb generalizes the phenomenon and applies it to other domains. Essentially it is the transformation of anything from fragile to antifragile.
What do critics say?
Here's what one of Antifragile reviewers had to say about the book: "Taleb’s ramblings may strike readers with knowledge-shknowledge as ill-considered; still, he presents a rich—and often telling—critique of modern civilization’s obsession with security." (-Publishers Weekly) 👍
* The summary points above have been concluded from the book and other public sources. The editor of this summary review made every effort to maintain information accuracy, including any published quotes, chapters, or takeaways. If you found it useful, please share it with others as it amplifies our potential to elevate society.
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Tal Gur is an author, founder, and impact-driven entrepreneur at heart. After trading his daily grind for a life of his own daring design, he spent a decade pursuing 100 major life goals around the globe. His journey and most recent book, The Art of Fully Living, has led him to found Elevate Society.