3-body problem

In the 17th century, Isaac Newton’s new law of gravity could precisely predict the orbits of any two celestial bodies. But once he added a third, there was no solution.


Over the past 300 years, mathematicians have discovered that the 3-body problem is an example of a complex system, in which infinitesimal changes can lead to large, unpredictable outcomes.


Complex systems have many components that interact with each other. Examples are weather, ecosystems, companies, cities, stock markets, a living cell, the human body, and the universe. In a complex system, the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can set off a tornado in Texas.


Complexity and chaos explain why weather forecasts are unreliable; economic predictions are often wrong; and established companies can be disrupted overnight by start-ups.


The world in which we live has an increasing number of feedback loops, causing events to be the cause of more events (say, people buy a book because other people bought it), thus generating snowballs and arbitrary and unpredictable planet-wide winner-take-all effects.

-Nassim Taleb


Antifragile and lean

If life is unpredictable, what can you do?


First, become antifragile:


Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.

-Nassim Taleb


Finally, learn from “lean” principles used by Toyota and Silicon Valley start-ups.


In 1950, Toyota Motor Company had manufactured a total of 2,685 cars over 13 years. In comparison, Ford’s Detroit factory was cranking out 7,000 cars a day—executives gave orders and workers followed them.


Lacking Ford’s enormous resources, Toyota was forced to manufacture in small batches. To make this practical, they evolved the Toyota Production System (TPS): decentralized management and manufacturing practices to maximize customer value and minimize waste. Core principles included:


Fifty years later, Toyota surpassed Ford in annual sales. Like the tortoise beating the hare, TPS enabled Toyota to become more efficient, profitable, and higher quality than Ford.


Toyota at this point in its development obtains brilliant results from average managers utilizing brilliant processes, while its competitors often obtain mediocre (or worse) results from brilliant managers utilizing broken processes.

-James Womack


Learning loop

In his book The Lean Startup, Eric Ries recommends entrepreneurs follow a Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop:


With this rapid, iterative process, many Internet start-ups stumbled upon positive feedback loops that powered exponential growth:


Test fast, fail fast, adjust fast.

-Tom Peters


Cartwright J. (2013, March 8). Physicists discover a whopping 13 new solutions to three-body problem. Science. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2013/03/physicists-discover-whopping-13-new-solutions-three-body-problem


Complex system. (2021, March 12). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_system


Butterfly effect. (2021, March 12). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect


Taleb NN. (2012). Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder. Random House.


Benson B. (2013, August 25). Live like a hydra: Thoughts on how to get stronger when things are chaotic. BetterHumans. https://betterhumans.pub/live-like-a-hydra-c02337782a89


Womack JP, Jones DT, Roos D. (2007). The machine that changed the world: The story of lean production—Toyota’s secret weapon in the global car wars that is now revolutionizing world industry. Free Press.


Toyota Production System. (2021, March 12). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Production_System


Hakim D. (2004, January 27). Toyota overtakes Ford as world’s no. 2 automaker. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2004/01/27/business/toyota-overtakes-ford-as-world-s-no-2-automaker.html


Network effect. (2021, March 12). Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_effect

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