Nassim Taleb’s Top 10 Life Tips

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If you’ve been living under a rock for the last 3 years, you might not yet have heard of Nassim Taleb, famous author of The Black Swan and predictor of of the most recent global financial crisis. 

Taleb is something of an enigma- he was relatively unknown before the economic meltdown of 2008 and a superstar afterward. Still, his writings provoke thoughtful consideration of a number of topics, particularly things that we take for granted. His essay “The Fourth Quadrant: A Map Of The Limits of Of Statistics” was especially interesting (I highly recommend it). One of my favourite quotes from the essay is:


'My classical metaphor: A Turkey is fed for a 1000 days—every days confirms to its statistical department that the human race cares about its welfare “with increased statistical significance”. On the 1001st day, the turkey has a surprise.' - Taleb

Yesterday, going through my Delicious bookmarks I re-read an old Sunday Times (UK) profile of Taleb in which he shared his Top 10 life tips. I’ve added the emphasis to the points I particularly like:

Taleb’s Top Life Tips

1 Scepticism is effortful and costly. It is better to be sceptical about matters of large consequences, and be imperfect, foolish and human in the small and the aesthetic.

Go to parties. You can’t even start to know what you may find on the envelope of serendipity. If you suffer from agoraphobia, send colleagues.
3 It’s not a good idea to take a forecast from someone wearing a tie. If possible, tease people who take themselves and their knowledge too seriously.

4 Wear your best for your execution and stand dignified. Your last recourse against randomness is how you act — if you can’t control outcomes, you can control the elegance of your behaviour. You will always have the last word.
5 Don’t disturb complicated systems that have been around for a very long time. We don’t understand their logic. Don’t pollute the planet. Leave it the way we found it, regardless of scientific ‘evidence’.

Learn to fail with pride — and do so fast and cleanly. Maximise trial and error — by mastering the error part.

Avoid losers. If you hear someone use the words ‘impossible’, ‘never’, ‘too difficult’ too often, drop him or her from your social network. Never take ‘no’ for an answer (conversely, take most ‘yeses’ as ‘most probably’).

8 Don’t read newspapers for the news (just for the gossip and, of course, profiles of authors). The best filter to know if the news matters is if you hear it in cafes, restaurants… or (again) parties.

9 Hard work will get you a professorship or a BMW. You need both work and luck for a Booker, a Nobel or a private jet.

10 Answer e-mails from junior people before more senior ones. Junior people have further to go and tend to remember who slighted them.

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P.S: Don’t believe everything the press likes to talk about. Is Taleb a guru, a crank, or at times perhaps both? Check out this counter essay called Taleb’s Black Swan.
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