Antifragility, or, a Robust System Needs Backups

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A robust system needs backups.

I recently left a USB key containing some critical information on my desk. In and of itself, this isn’t really a problem. I work in an industry which closely guards its intellectual property, which in turn means that to get in the building, you need either clearance, or an escort.

So, to be clear, nothing was going to happen to this USB.

But…

But, as I said, that USB has some really important information on it. Information that would be slow and difficult to reconstruct. Information that, if I didn’t have access to it, would make my life rather more difficult than it normally is.

So…

So I didn’t exactly get a good night’s sleep. Why didn’t I get a good night’s sleep? Because I’m really, Really, REALLY good at borrowing trouble. I might know that nothing is going to go wrong, but I don’t necessarily feel that nothing is going to go wrong.

So I fret about the coulds and the maybes. Somebody could take the USB key. Maybe the cleaners will accidentally sweep it into the trash.

Now the point of all of this isn’t to tell a story about learning not to worry. Maybe another time. No, the point of this is to tell a story about anti-fragility. About having backups. And, preferably, backups to your backups.

This USB key is a single point of failure for…a whole lot of things. If something goes wrong with it I’m in a world of hurt, and that makes my systems fragile. I want my systems to be robust, so that information needs to be backed up, and backed up regularly.

And this tells a story about, well, everything; any system with single failure point is fragile. Put another way, any system that depends on everything working properly, all the time, every time, is doomed to fail. Because that system depends on perfection, and life isn’t perfect.

So, think about your systems, the ones you depend on, and ask yourself, “Where could this break?” That break point is where you need to add backups.


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