Saturday, January 18, 2014

Wisdom Of The Week

I made myself a promise this year to make it a priority to re-read good books before picking up any unread ones. I couldn't find a better place to start than The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.
Ok, I was bs-ing in the last two sentences... resolutions are meant to be broken but the real reason was I miss Taleb's writings. It's so refreshing to read him that it has kind of become my quasi-meditation. Besides being wise; Taleb has this blunt sense of humor which makes him special. Here's an excerpt from Black Swan:

Which brings us to the Black Swan problem in its original form. Imagine someone of authority and rank, operating in a place where rank matters— say, a government agency or a large corporation. He could be a verbose political commentator on Fox News stuck in front of you at the health club (impossible to avoid looking at the screen), the chairman of a company discussing the “bright future ahead,” a Platonic medical doctor who has categorically ruled out the utility of mother’s milk (because he did not see anything special in it), or a Harvard Business School professor who does not laugh at your jokes. He takes what he knows a little too seriously. Say that a prankster surprises him one day by surreptitiously sliding a thin feather up his nose during a moment of relaxation. How would his dignified pompousness fare after the surprise? Contrast his authoritative demeanor with the shock of being hit by something totally unexpected that he does not understand . For a brief moment, before he regains his bearings, you will see disarray in his face.

I confess having developed an incorrigible taste for this kind of prank during my first sleepaway summer camp. Introduced into the nostril of a sleeping camper, a feather would induce sudden panic. I spent part of my childhood practicing variations on the prank: in place of a thin feather you can roll the corner of a tissue to make it long and narrow. I got some practice on my younger brother. An equally effective prank would be to drop an ice cube down someone’s collar when he expects it least, say during an official dinner. I had to stop these pranks as I got deeper into adulthood, of course, but I am often involuntarily hit with such an image when bored out of my wits in meetings with serious-looking businesspersons (dark suits and standardized minds) theorizing, explaining things, or talking about random events with plenty of “because” in their conversation. I zoom in on one of them and imagine the ice cube sliding down his back— it would be less fashionable, though certainly more spectacular, if you put a living mouse there, particularly if the person is ticklish and is wearing a tie, which would block the rodent’s normal route of exit.

Here's Taleb's new year wish - so simple but yet so important:

Taleb highly recommends the probability book - Modelling Extremal Events (might help to avoid the sucker problem).

Have a great weekend and keep smiling :)

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