Focus On The Consequences And Not On The Probability
An investigation of opacity, luck, uncertainty, probability, human error, risk, and decision making when we don’t understand the world.
Nassim Taleb - Overview
Nassim Taleb is the author of the INCERTO
a philosophical and practical essay on uncertainty that comprises 5
books: "Skin In the Game", "Antifragile", "The Black Swan", "Fooled by
Randomness", and "The Bed of Procrustes".
Our world is full of chance and the
unknown and the broader canvas of Taleb's work is all about alerting us to the level of
uncertainty and unpredictability of life whilst offering us practical
ideas and strategies to enable us to survive and even prosper in these
He teaches us how to avoid crossing the street
blindfolded as he urges us to follow the main rule of living with
To learn to perceive it as it really is - and not to delude ourselves into seeing it in the manner that makes us feel most comfortable.
To make decisions that focus on the consequences - which you can
know - and not on the probability of an event - which you
Nassim Taleb - Praise and Criticism
The intellectual establishment, which includes the influential
news media, rewarded him by declaring him one of the most important
thinkers in the world.
"The new sage.
The trader turned author has emerged as the guru of the global Financial
meltdown. Not only is he riding high in the bestseller lists, his
theory of black swan events has become the most seductive guide to our
"A giant of Mediterranean thought. Now the hottest thinker in the world"
"Taleb not only had an explanation for [the crisis], he saw it coming"
The New York Times
"Now hailed as a seer"
Taleb is rude and arrogant in his criticisms of those who disagree with him and he indulges in loud and abrasive slanging matches with his opponents on twitter.
"...over the years it has become evident that he
wishes to take down the entire intellectual world, or at least that part
which he does not agree with or which has slighted him in some way.
has said repeatedly that professionals like economists, historians and
psychologists are frauds. And columnists too. Taleb finds the word
“scientist" in “social scientist" hilarious.
Only Sam Harris, a neuroscientist and a popular author and podcaster,
whom Taleb once called an “imposter", has demonstrated the ability to
match Taleb’s venom:
“This guy is just insufferable. I’ve actually never
witnessed a marriage of incompetence and confidence so fully and
grotesquely consummated in the mind of a person with a public platform."
When commenting on this in a public address to Google employees Nasim Taleb said that that this is his way of putting his skin in the game and that if those he insults don't like it they can sue him.
Nassim Taleb - Themes of His 4 Main Books
Fooled By Randomness
“Our minds are not quite designed to understand how the world works, but, rather, to get out of trouble rapidly and have progeny. If they were made for us to understand things, then we would have a machine in it that would run the past history as in a VCR, with a correct chronology, and it would slow us down so much that we would have trouble operating.”
“A mistake is not something to be determined after the fact, but in the light of the information until that point."
"Nobody accepts randomness in their successes, only their failures.”
“The public person most visibly endowed with such a trait is George
Soros. One of his strengths is that he revises his opinion rather
rapidly, without the slightest embarrassment…"
"What characterizes real
speculators like Soros from the rest is that their activities are devoid
of path dependence.They are totally free from their past actions.
Every day is a clean slate.”
“My lesson from Soros is to
start every meeting at my boutique by convincing everyone that we are a
bunch of idiots who know nothing and are mistake-prone, but happen to be
endowed with the rare privilege of knowing it.”
The Black Swan
“The strategy for the discoverers and entrepreneurs is to rely less
on top-down planning and focus on maximum tinkering and recognizing
opportunities when they present themselves. So I disagree with the
followers of Marx and those of Adam Smith: the reason free markets work
is because they allow people to be lucky, thanks to aggressive trial and
error, not by giving rewards or “incentives” for skill. The strategy
is, then, to tinker as much as possible and try to collect as many positive Black
Swan opportunities as you can.”
“In general, positive Black
Swans take time to show their effect while negative ones happen very
quickly— it is much easier and much faster to destroy than to build.”
"As you give someone more info, the more they will refine and create
predictions, and the more wrong they will end up being. They will
interpret random noise as valuable data."
“Sir Francis Bacon commented that the most important advances are the
least predictable ones, those “lying out of the path of the
“Consider a turkey that is fed every day. Every single feeding will firm
up the bird’s belief that it is the general rule of life to be fed
every day by friendly members of the human race “looking out for its
best interests,” as a politician would say. On the afternoon of the
Wednesday before Thanksgiving, something unexpected will happen to the
turkey. It will incur a revision of belief.”
“Some things benefit from shocks; they thrive and grow when exposed to
volatility, randomness, disorder, and stressors and love adventure,
risk, and uncertainty. Yet, in spite of the ubiquity of the phenomenon,
there is no word for the exact opposite of fragile. Let us call it
antifragile. Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The
resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets
“Ancestral life had no homework, no boss, no civil servants, no
academic grades, no conversation with the dean, no consultant with an
MBA, no table of procedure, no application form, no trip to New Jersey,
no grammatical stickler, no conversation with someone boring you: all
life was random stimuli and nothing, good or bad, ever felt like work.
Dangerous, yes, but boring, never.”
“This is the central illusion
in life: that randomness is risky, that it is a bad thing— and that
eliminating randomness is done by eliminating randomness.”
is trying to use protective regulations or “rights” to derive income
without adding anything to economic activity, not increasing the wealth
By definition, what works cannot be irrational; about every
single person I know who has chronically failed in business shares that
mental block, the failure to realize that if something stupid works (and
makes money), it cannot be stupid.
Replacing the “natural,” that is age-old, processes that have
survived trillions of high-dimensional stressors with something in a
“peer-reviewed” journal that may not survive replication or statistical
scrutiny is neither science nor good practice.
Products or companies that bear the owner’s name convey very valuable
messages. They are shouting that they have something to lose.
It may not be ethically required, but the most effective, shame-free policy is maximal transparency, even transparency of intentions.
Studying individual ants will almost never give us a clear indication of how the ant colony operates. For that, one needs to understand an ant colony as an ant colony, no less, no more, not a collection of ants.
It suffices for an intransigent minority—a certain type of
intransigent minority—with significant skin in the game (or, better,
soul in the game) to reach a minutely small level, say 3 or 4 percent of
the total population, for the entire population to have to submit to
You can define a free person precisely as someone whose fate is not centrally or directly dependent on peer assessment.
If your private life conflicts with your intellectual opinion, it cancels your intellectual ideas, not your private life.
Nassim Taleb - Conclusions
primary purpose of this site is to show you how to cope in tough times, and to
provide you with the tools to do this successfully.
way we do this is by adopting a balanced approach and providing the
"toolkit" of information and resources to enable you to do this. I
call this approach the "The Balanced Toolkit".
my view, Nassim Taleb’s books have, for the non-statistically trained lay person
such as myself, introduced a whole new dimension to understanding life and
added more tools to be included in our toolkit.
single biggest takeaway is that I need to learn more about statistics and basic
following is a cross-section of key points that have had impact on me. The
selection of these points is entirely subjective and I do recommend that you
read and familiarise yourself with the work of Nassim Taleb and make your own
Points To Take Away
is more random than you think and your ability to navigate it rationally is
more limited than you think.
everything that happens happens for a reason, but everything that survives
survives for a reason.
fit the explanation to the events after the fact, as if we knew it at the time.
And, we see patterns where there are none – or we see the wrong pattern.
minds are not quite designed to understand how the world works, but, rather, to
get out of trouble rapidly and have progeny.
natural tendency is to expect incremental steps and incremental changes to have
only an incremental impact whereas there can be a non-linear relationship
between the steps and their impact and at some unknown and indeterminate point
a tipping point is reached and a significant and often unstoppable effect or
change takes place.
success can be explainable by skills and labour. Wild success is attributable
accepts randomness in their successes, only their failures.
moves are the size of the media headlines. But, the interpretation is not
linear. A 2% move is not twice as significant an event as 1%, it is rather like
four to ten times. A 7% move can be several billion times more relevant than a
is easier for your brain to detect differences rather than absolutes, hence
rich or poor will be in relation to something else.
attitude toward risks and rewards will vary according to whether you look at
your net worth or changes in it.
may be great information in the fact that nothing took place. There are plenty
of scientific results that are left out of publications because they are not
statistically significant, but nevertheless provide information.
you have the rewards, you must also get some of the risks, not let others pay
the price of your mistakes.
tell me what you “think,” just tell me what’s in your portfolio.
you do not take risks for your opinion, you are nothing.
your private life conflicts with your intellectual opinion, it cancels your
intellectual ideas, not your private life.
the predictions of experts – they will almost always be trumped by an
evidence-based analysis, since they tend to mis-remember the past. They
remember their successes and forget their failures.
will never fully convince someone that he is wrong; only reality can.
the “natural,” that is age-old, processes that have survived trillions of
high-dimensional stressors with something in a “peer-reviewed” journal that may
not survive replication or statistical scrutiny is neither science nor good
individual ants will almost never give us a clear indication of how the ant
colony operates. For that, one needs to understand an ant colony as an ant
colony, no less, no more, not a collection of ants.
suffices for an intransigent minority—a certain type of intransigent
minority—with significant skin in the game (or, better, soul in the game) to
reach a minutely small level, say 3 or 4 per cent of the total population, for
the entire population to have to submit to their preferences.
only definition of rationality that I’ve found that is practically,
empirically, and mathematically rigorous is the following: what is rational is
that which allows for survival. Anything that hinders one’s survival at an individual,
collective, tribal, or general level is, to me, irrational.
definition, what works cannot be irrational; about every single person I know
who has chronically failed in business shares that mental block, the failure to
realize that if something stupid works (and makes money), it cannot be stupid.
characterizes real speculators like Soros from the rest is that their
activities are devoid of path dependence. They are totally free from their past
actions. Every day is a clean slate.” [Path dependence is when the decisions
made are dependent on previous decisions or experiences made in the past]
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