Nassim N Taleb on the Source of All Blunders


photo: Marcos Takamatsu

I’m so excited. Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s follow-up to The Black Swan is now available in the UK – entitled Antifragile: How to Live in a World We Don’t Understand. My hardback copy is winging its way to me. Hardback? Yes, I simply can’t wait for the paperback release. And I don’t want an eBook because I want to underline all the good bits (and the eBook costs more).

As I’ve mentioned before, The Black Swan – The Impact of the Highly Improbable was a goldmine resource when I wrote A Calculated Life. In a nutshell, if I dare, Taleb argues that people, corporations, financial institutions make serious blunders because they disregard highly improbable events. They concern themselves with the likely range of possibilities and make no allowance for so-called black swans – events they have not encountered before.

His prologue opens with the statement: ‘Before the discovery of Australia, people in the Old World were convinced that all swans were white.’

According to Gillian Tett in the Financial Times, the Bank of England former boss Mervyn King has taken to quoting from The Black Swan so, while I wait for Antifragile to arrive, I think I’ll do the same. Here is a random selection of my favourite quotes, some relevant to A Calculated Life:

Our minds do not seem made to think and introspect . . . (my) hardthinking ancestor would have been eaten by a lion while his nonthinking but faster-reacting cousin would have run for cover.

. . . 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.

We are suckers for those who help us navigate uncertainty, whether the fortune-teller or the “well published” (dull) academics or civil servants using phony mathematics.

‘We see flaws in others and not in ourselves. Once again we seem to be wonderful at self-deceit machines.’

‘The world is opaque and appearances fool us.’

‘Luck is the grand equalizer.’

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