The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

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This was a very, very interesting book, and I had a lot of conflicting reactions to it. The content is great — and I’ve heard good things about his previous work, Fooled by Randomness. I found his writing style nearly unreadable, not to mention condescending and dismissive of anyone who thinks differently at all — but in spite of the stylistic issues, the content is great. He spends a lot of time talking about how people, by and large, are fooled by their models into thinking they have predictive power in the real world. He says that would be true if we lived in a normal distribution type of world, but for the vast majority of things we care about — like elections, stock market swings, success in almost any field — we live in a decidedly not normally distributed world.

The “black swan” theme — that while most swans in nature are white, sometimes they’re black — is throughout the book, and the main point is this: the relative rarity of black swans means that they’re often surprising to people, and that too many lessons are inferred from their existence, even when they’re not based in any reasonable thought. Google & Facebook are both black swans — highly unlikely strings of events allowed them to become what they are — and most of the “do it this way” lessons that entrepreneurs are trying to infer from their success are simply not applicable. FWIW, it seems to me that Firefox is a black swan as well.

Anyway, in spite of this writing, this is an important book, I think — certainly it is for me.

2 Replies to “The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb”

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