Resources to Be up to Date on Nassim Nicholas Taleb Thought

If you have read this blog in the past, you know how much I admire Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Lately, a new book of his series, the Incerto, came out: Skin in the Game. While the previous books focused on the concept of randomness, tail risk, antifragility (as he calls it), the latter followed the same logic but applied to life and ethics. I found it a great read. Yet I believe I won’t be able to truly understand it until I won’t have it read and re-read at least a few times.

In this article, I’m taking a few parts of the commencement speech Nassim Nicholas Taleb gave in 2016 at the American University of Beirut, which is one of the most compelling statements I’ve ever heard.

Success as a Fragile Construction

You look in the mirror every evening, and wonder if you disappoint the person you were at 18, right before the age when people start getting corrupted by life. Let him or her be the only judge; not your reputation, not your wealth, not your standing in the community, not the decorations on your lapel. If you do not feel ashamed, you are successful. All other definitions of success are modern constructions; fragile modern constructions.

Personal History

Don’t tell anyone, but all the stuff you think comes from deep philosophical reflection is dressed up: it all comes from an ineradicable gambling instinct –just imagine a compulsive gambler playing high priest. People don’t like to believe it: my education came from trading and risk taking with some help from school.

First Break

Then I got a break on the day when at Wharton I accidentally discovered probability theory and became obsessed with it. But, as I said it did not come from lofty philosophizing and scientific hunger, only from the thrills and hormonal flush one gets while taking risks in the markets.

The International Association of Name Droppers

I discovered that I hated fame, famous people, caviar, champagne, complicated food, expensive wine and, mostly wine commentators. I like mezze with local Arak baladi, including squid in its ink (sabbidej), no less no more, and wealthy people tend to have their preferences dictated by a system meant to milk them

On Advice and Skin in the Game

I am just describing my life. I hesitate to give advice because every major single piece of advice I was given turned out to be wrong and I am glad I didn’t follow them. I was told to focus and I never did. I was told to never procrastinate and I waited 20 years for The Black Swan and it sold 3 million copies. I was told to avoid putting fictional characters in my books and I did put in Nero Tulip and Fat Tony because I got bored otherwise. I was told to not insult the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal; the more I insulted them the nicer they were to me and the more they solicited Op-Eds. I was told to avoid lifting weights for a back pain and became a weightlifter: never had a back problem since. If I had to relive my life I would be even more stubborn and uncompromising than I have been. One should never do anything without skin in the game. If you give advice, you need to be exposed to losses from it. It is an extension to the silver rule

What suggestions does Nassim Nicholas Taleb give you?

  • Do not read the newspapers, or follow the news in any way or form
  • If something is nonsense, you say it and say it loud
  • Treat the doorman with a bit more respect than the big boss
  • If something is boring, avoid it –save taxes and visits to the mother in law. Why? Because your biology is the best nonsense detector; use it to navigate your life

Long maxim via negativa from Nassim Nicholas Taleb, distilling Skin in the Game

Muscles without strength,

friendship without trust,

opinion without risk,

change without aesthetics,

age without values,

food without nourishment,

power without fairness,

facts without rigor,

degrees without erudition,

militarism without fortitude,

progress without civilization,

complication without depth,

fluency without content,

and, most of all, religion without tolerance.

Full commencement speech of Nicholas Nassim Taleb at American University of Beirut

Resources to be up to date with Nassim Nicholas Taleb thought

Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Bitcoin

Bitcoin is an excellent idea. It fulfills the needs of the complex system, not because it is a cryptocurrency, but precisely because it has no owner, no authority that can decide on its fate. It is owned by the crowd, its users. And it has now a track record of several years, enough for it to be an animal in its own right…It may fail; but then it will be easily reinvented as we now know how it works. In its present state, it may not be convenient for transactions, not good enough to buy your decaffeinated expresso macchiato at your local virtue-signaling coffee chain. It may be too volatile to be a currency, for now. But it is the first organic currency.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb Books

Nassim Nicholas Taleb Blog

Nassim Nicholas Taleb on Medium

Handpicked content from this blog:

Skin in the Game: How Nassim Nicholas Taleb Can Change Your View of the World
The Black Swan Mindset: How to Think Like Nassim Nicholas Taleb
The Black Swan – Book Review

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Gennaro Cuofano

Creator of | Head of Business Development at | International MBA

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