Sunday, December 23, 2007

"The Black Swan" by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

In his book The Black Swan Nassim Nicholas Taleb gives a fascinating layer by layer account of his views around the major events that impact our lives. Taleb is a former financial type and voracious reader who takes exception with the traditional model of politicians, economists and financiers who follow the bell-shaped curve in predicting events. Taleb's notion is that the truely momentus events that occur in life cannot be categorized so easily. These are not the everyday things that occur, but rather than big ones... what Taleb refers to as the "black swans".

Examples of a black swan would be the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the stock market crash (pick your crash), the devaluation of the dollar and any other event that has the following characteristics:

1. An unpredictable event.
2. Carries a massive impact.
3. It's attempted to be explained as predictable after the fact.

Taleb's notion is that what we do is concentrate on what we know and disregard what we don't. By doing so, though, we miss out on the biggest events with the deepest impact. Another example of this would be the scientists who stick to the things that are worked on by other scientists. Any new discoveries in these areas will be incremental at best and have a fairly limited impact. The alternative to this would be those scientists working out on the fringe of research dealing with highly speculative lines of investigation that most likely will not amount to anything, but have the potential to have enormous impact should they come to fruition.

Two additional interesting things from the book are as follows:
- Should describe things AS they are happening, rather than after the fact. Difference is in recording your impressions as opposed to your memory of what your impressions were.
- Should read a lot.