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Antifragile: Nassim Taleb on how to live in a world we don’t understand

Nassim Taleb’s The Black Swan (2008) was a massive hit, and proved prescient in its prediction of the Financial Crisis. Taleb’s passionate, instinctive, and often irreverent writing guarantees that his work will always be a a thoroughly good read. So I was excited to place my order for his latest book,  Antifragile: How to Live in a World We Don’t Understand, on Amazon last night. Will get stuck in over Christmas…

Luck

Great to see England cricketer turned writer and journalist Ed Smith in the office yesterday. Ed has just published his new book, Luck, which explores the role that luck actually plays in life, and how we can accommodate it, and understand it.  “Only those with scars on their body should be taken seriously when they talk about randomness. Ed is one of them; he is for real” says Nassim Taleb, who has also thought long and hard about how the unpredictable and unexpected can scupper the best laid plans. Ed is also author of What Sport Tells Us About Life, which the playwright Simon Gray described his  as “an absolutely delightful book. What Smith says about rhythm in batting is also true of writing – poise, balance, etc. – and Smith has it.” Ed is a bright speaking talent; thoughtful and funny and with a rare ability to segue from professional sport to philosophy, life skills and the secrets of success and balanced decision-making. Here he is giving a Radio 4 lecture on life, cricket and Duncker’s candle problem.

Ketchup in a bottle

Fraser Nelson interviews Black Swan author Nassim Taleb in this week’s Spectator. Taleb warns that the UK’s Quantitative Easing programme could have serious inflationary consequences in the future. “It’s like a ketchup bottle. you try to pour money out of the ketchup bottle: nothing comes out, nothing comes out – and then everything splashes. Every single person who has tried QE, or a form of printing money, has effectively lost the argument. Turkey had it, Brazil had it, Argentina had it, Italy had it when they debased the Lira. Even Weimar Germany claimed that QE made the government rich … We have a 90 per cent chance of seeing nothing and 10 per cent of having an explosion.”

It’s all about context

Speaking to General Rupert Smith today he told me about the key idea behind his new co-authored book, The Age of Insecurity. Essentially, for Rupert, policy-makers and war strategists spend too much time applying ‘textbook’ tactics, ignoring the fact that these approaches are no longer valid because the context in which conflicts are fought are no longer the same. As such, implementing ‘lessons from history’ can have potentially catastrophic outcomes. Indeed, a key strategy for terrorist networks in the early 21st century has been to alter the context in which conflict takes place so that traditional military means are no longer effective.

It struck me that these ideas resonate with some of those which Nassim Taleb applied to the finance industry in Black Swan. It will also be interesting to see Rupert’s ideas compare to those of Philip Bobbitt in Terror and Consent, in which Bobbitt argued that the West needs to radically re-think the way war is conceptualised if the threat of terrorism is to be met. In any case, it promises to be a fascinating and worthy follow-up to his 2007 hit, The Utility of Force.

Nassim Taleb: ‘Less fragility crucial to economic growth’

Attended a client event yesterday to watch Nassim Taleb in action.

A former MD and Wall Street trader, Nassim’s acclaimed The Black Swan (Random House, 2007) has won him many admirers. During his presentation he focused on the need for all of us to ‘to learn from failure’. As he argued, “in an overly leveraged world, avoiding mistakes is incredibly profitable. The key is to make the world, and financial markets and institutions, less fragile.”

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