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.

10 Things To Take On Board The Plane To Revolutionize Your Air Travel

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Flying between Cape Town and San Francisco is no joke. Whether you connect via London, Zurich, New York or Atlanta, there is no way to escape the multiple stops, 9 time zones and 24+ hour journey. And if you’re an entrepreneur who’s company is backed venture investors and hasn’t yet made a mega exit for them, you’re sitting at the back of the plane. Yes, that’s me.

As I sit here on the plane writing this blog post, I am mindful of the things I’ve learned to bring on board with me to make the journey easier. Here is my list of 10 key items for long haul flying in economy class:

1. Water bottle (a full one).
The number one reason people suffer from jet lag and generally feel like crap after long flights is severe dehydration. Draining those tiny plastic cups every time an air hostess offers you one is nowhere near enough- take a water bottle and sip on it throughout the flight. 2. Neck pillow.
The lousy pillow that you are provided isn’t going to help you sleep, and in any case there is no room to lie down comfortably on it. A neck pillow makes it easy to support your head while sitting up, dramatically improving your quality of sleep on the plane.

3. Ear plugs.
Airplane cabins are filled with a loud “din” that is a bit too uncomfortable to be considered white noise. Ear plugs drown that sound right out and make things a lot quieter and easier to concentrate, or get some sleep. As I write this a baby is crying in front of me and I can barely hear it ;-) 4. Protein bars.
Do you find yourself eating more junk food (e.g. chocolate cake, croissants) on long flights than is normal for you, and feeling bloated and unhealthy afterward? This tends to happen because (a) they do feed you more junk on the plane and (b) you hungry so you eat it. Instead, skip the junk and bring along tasty, nutritious protein bars than you can snack on or eat along with some of your airplane food- you will feel more satisfied and healthier as a result.  

5. Sweater.
I have no idea how draughts appear in a pressurized cabin but they do. The blanket you are provided is a good start but not enough to keep your arms and chest warm throughout the flight, so bring a comfortable sweater and bask in your warmth as everyone around you tries in vain to cover their entire bodies with that slim airplane blanket. 6. Books/Kindle
Flights give you access to long periods of uninterrupted attention, making them ideal for reading books. Perhaps due to the cramped, less comfortable environment on the plane I find it easier to read flowing prose that isn’t extremely dense (e.g. Freakonomics over Socrates).  

7. iPod.
A lot of time gets wasted when queuing at the boarding gate, preparing for take off and landing as well as getting off the plane. Keeping an iPod handy would make these idle periods much more pleasurable if you listen to some good music, or in my case, audiobooks. 8. Pen and paper.
Sitting on your own for 11 hours at a time is sure to give birth to some interesting ideas, so write them down! At the very least, having a pen will ensure you fill out your international arrival and customs forms en route.

9. Anti-jet lag pills.
Crossing 9 time zones in one day can really mess with your body’s internal rhythms. Taking an anti-jet lag remedy from your local pharmacy (in my case a tablet every 2 hours during the flight) might make a big improvement to those whose systems are wrecked after a long flight. (Side note: I actually forgot my anti-jet lag pills for this trip, so I’m hoping that they were just placebos anyway). 10. iPad.
If you have one, the iPad is a must to take on flights. It allows you to easily read documents and ebooks, and get plenty of writing and note taking done. This entire blog post was written on my iPad. The long battery life (your laptop battery will die after 2 hours) and small form factor (your laptop is uncomfortable to use in such cramped quarters) make the iPad ideal for air travel. Check back to the photo at the top of this post.

I hope that this list gives you some ideas for your next long distance flight. It will improve the experience, promise.
What do you think of this list? What do you take on board the plane that makes your flight better?