Rules for Living from Nassim Taleb

The Author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan has some suggestions for you:

Taleb’s top life tips

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.

click for video


Nassim Nicholas Taleb: the prophet of boom and doom
Bryan Appleyard
The Sunday Times, June 1, 2008


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What's been said:

Discussions found on the web:
  1. Mel commented on Aug 3

    Thanks for the summary. I’m surprised by the smallness of the word “oil” in the tag.

  2. Pete commented on Aug 3

    5. Don’t disturb complicated systems that have been around for a very long time. We don’t understand their logic.

    Also happens to be one of the top rules for working with legacy software systems. Don’t touch that code, even if it looks wrong!

  3. Flatulus commented on Aug 3

    “If possible, tease people who take themselves and their knowledge too seriously.”

    Pure genius. Has this guy ever had a job?

  4. Douglas M Dillon commented on Aug 3

    My recommended rule for living is:
    “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth, where moth and rust corrupt and where thieve break in and steal, but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroy and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

    Taleb talks a lot about the importance of “Black Swan” events, but I haven’t heard him discuss the most important “Black Swan” event: the resurrection of Jesus and the implication of that “Black Swan”: that God has given us eternal life and that life is found in His Son.


  5. Dave commented on Aug 3

    How about ‘ignore all lists with 10 elements’?

  6. philip commented on Aug 3

    Why must the bible monkeys torment so?

  7. Wall Street Weather commented on Aug 3

    In an article in last Sunday’s NYT, Taleb had this observation about economic forecasters:
    “I cannot find a single convincing argument that tells me that astrologers won’t do better than economists.” :-)Deborah

  8. George commented on Aug 3

    Looks good. Except he forgot the Pottery Barn Rule: “If you break it, you pay for it.”

  9. teraflop commented on Aug 3

    Also, Taleb made this recording impromptu from his laptop while on the road, not in a formal setting with lighting, teleprompters, and an American flag or two in the background. Despite that, his words ring true. However one must remember that his current role as consultant means his view is often one of a skeptic rather than a participant. That being said, I love his stuff. Power to power laws! Down with the Gaussian!

  10. George commented on Aug 4

    Great list, thanks for sharing. Seems that he boils things down really well. My favorite is his note about the planet and this complex system we live in and my second favorite was about who to respond to via email.

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