Antifragile – Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Nassim Nicolas Taleb wrote a harrowing book that has changed the way I see the world. It was harrowing in that it is so dense that my note taking interrupted me so greatly that I required nearly 3 weeks to finish the book. At times he comes off as a rude contrarian, but I couldn’t get away from the fact that his seemed disturbingly right on the money.
At the beginning, he writes, “the goal is to build a guide to non-predictive decision making under uncertainty.” He takes this point to such an incalculable level of depth that it left me spinning often. Perhaps he could have avoided the ancient Greek and Latin for the sake of the audience…
Generally while listening to books (say Titan, Linchpin or The Power of Habit) I can do things like cook, run on the beach, jump rope or lift weights. Many other books tell stories that are more easily retained in my dense brain. Antifragile is inhospitable to this style of consumption.
I attempted to listen to Antifragile while walking 5 kilometer to go to a specially beautiful library in Burleigh Heads, Australia. The walk, which normally requires about an hour, took three. I was endlessly pausing and opening Evernote to make notes on what I was learning. The sun was out and I got my first sunburn of the year due to the note taking delay. The ideas were worth remembering so I had to keep stopping.
At first, I was skeptical because Taleb’s discussion pretty much throws a wrench in the machine of the material I had learned at the University of Nevada. His points touched on much of what I had learned while in University.
I especially like his call for a “National Entrepreneurs Day: You will fail, and we thank you for being willing to fail.” He is infinitely confident about his message and he doesn’t shy from name calling when he brings up what he calls the fragilista. Fragilistas are the “no-skin in the game,” “commentators” who continue their faux expertise despite having to real understanding of what will happen. A favorite example of his is fragilista Thomas Friedman.
I remember reading The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas Friedman. It was prescribed reading for my economics courses. I enjoyed reading it while hanging in a tree 15 feet above the ground in Rancho San Rafael Park. At the time, I thought the book was insightful and prolific. Friedman talks about the importance of specialization and the value that globalized trade will play in our lives. There was always a missing link that I couldn’t identify but it was never stressed. The ideas Friedman describes are largely useless and only provide value if you are… I don’t know; a policy maker in Washington D.C. or something…
After reading Antifragile, I’m far more skeptical of his ideas. Does a globalized economy really benefit the day to day life of people all that much? My new answer is perhaps, but it also makes the threat of something really bad happening (i.e. a turkey problem as described in the book.) This globalized economy seems incredibly fragile to unpredictable events. What happens if oil prices kick up because of a war, or the information systems crash due to some cyber hacker whom no one expects yet. These sorts of things do happen: think 9/11, Arab Spring or Fukishima. These are all events that are hard to predict and shift the whole way we experience the world (Taleb calls them Black Swans.)
Anyways, I finished the book as I was in the middle of cooking some bacon, tomatoes, mushrooms and eggs for breakfast. After I stewed on the ideas of Fat Tony, I started to notice that I wasn’t listening to anything. I turned on Planet Money NPR podcast.
Planet Money was discussing the business nature of the Catholic Church. Apparenty, Benedict is stepping down and there is trouble in the church. The announcers listened to the consultants (i.e. fragilista charlatans) as they described how the church should centralize their purchasing power and power structure in order to take advantage of global economics. This plays into Taleb’s model perfectly.
These consultants work at firms that are less than 50 years old I’m sure; yet they don’t hesitate to provide advice to the Catholic church which has been around for something like 2,000 years. What arrogant folks.
Now, I feel very comfortable in a prediction, despite the fact that Taleb warns against predictions. I predict that these consultants and their businesses will not be around as long as the business (the Catholic Church) that they are attempting to teach a lesson.-
This is a great book. I definitely recommend it… but it’s hyper dense and requires much time and energy to understand.-
If you do not have time to read the book (which I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t) you could take a quick hour and fifteen to sit down and listen to him discuss his ideas here < http://youtu.be/MMBclvY_EMA >
Anything You Want - Derek Sivers
Derek Sivers is probably my favorite all-star entrepreneur. This book is excellent and I can’t recommend it enough. If you want more genius from him, check out his site: http://sivers.org/
The Power of Belief - Lewis Howes
Producing this podcast has been great. I think the lessons in here are great. Check it out.
That’s All Folks:
Sorry for the limited reading this month. Antifragile was a time vacum that was well worth it. I also finished some books that I don’t feel are worth writing about here.
I’m launching a new podcasting company called Freedom Podcasting (http://www.freedompodcasting.com) . Later this month I’ll be putting out a blog about the best podcasts of the last few months. Feel free to drop by there or like it on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Freedom-Podcasting/230884087052559) , because I have no idea if this stuff is going to work!
I was caught up with immigration and SEO work much of the month. I’ll attempt to do more reading this month. Titles that looking tasty are Mastering the Rockefeller Habits, some more Seth Godin stuff and Walter Issacson’s portrayal of Einstein.
Thanks for your attention!