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Black Swans

Last modified: Friday, 21-Aug-2015 18:57:27 MST

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The Black Swan

 

Only time will tell what impact (if any) Nassim Taleb's recent popular and controversial book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable will have on the field of decision-making under severe uncertainty.

I, for one, hope that the issues raised in this book and in its predecessor, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in the Markets and in Life, will be instrumental in helping decision-makers to identify voodoo decision theories -- such as Info-Gap decision theory -- that promise robust decisions under severe uncertainty.

I fear though -- in view of my experience of the past 40 years - that the danger is that the huge success of the Black Swan will inspire a new wave of voodoo decision theories, purportedly capable of ... "domesticating" black swans and preempting the discovery of ... purple swans!

We shall have to wait and see.

For those who have "been in hiding" I should note that Taleb has become quite a celebrity. According to the Prudent Investor Newsletters (Tuesday, June 3, 2008):

  • Mr. Taleb charges about $60,000 per speaking engagement and does about 30 presentations a year to "to bankers, economists, traders, even to Nasa, the US Fire Administration and the Department of Homeland Security" according to Timesonline’s Bryan Appleyard.

  • He recently got $4million as advance payment for his next much awaited book.

  • Earned $35-$40 MILLION on a huge Black Swan event-on the biggest stockmarket crash in modern history-Black Monday, October 19,1987.

So, if you haven’t heard him in person you can easily find on the WWW numerous videos of his interviews.

Here is a link to a very short (2:45 min) clip, recorded by Taleb himself, apparently at Heathrow Airport, of 10 tips on how to deal with Black Swans, and life in general.

  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.

  2. 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'.

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

  7. 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.

It is interesting to juxtapose Prof. Taleb’s thesis in The Black Swan that severe uncertainty makes (reliable) prediction in the Socio/economic/political spheres impossible, with the polar position taken by his colleague, Prof. Bruce Bueno de Mesquita, who actually specializes in predicting the future.

One thing for sure: Sooner or later info-gap scholars will find a simple reliable recipe for handling Black Swans!

Stay tuned!

And what do you know ?????? See Review 17

It was bound to happen!!


Disclaimer: This page, its contents and style, are the responsibility of the author (Moshe Sniedovich) and do not represent the views, policies or opinions of the organizations he is associated/affiliated with.


Last modified: Friday, 21-Aug-2015 18:57:27 MST