Nassim Taleb’s Top 10 Life Tips

Here are Nassim Taleb’s top 10 life tips, all worthwhile, from this profile:

1. Skepticism 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.

Elsewhere from the profile: he doesn’t trust people who wear ties; he reads 60 hours a week but never a newspaper; he never watches television; he exercises fanatically; stress should be "irregular and ferocious — early men did not have bad bosses, but they did occasionally run into lions".

10 comments on “Nassim Taleb’s Top 10 Life Tips
  • Ben, when I read this last weekend, I marked it in red, made copies and sent them to some people who would not read it otherwise.

    I think the best one-liner in there was “accept randomness”.

    I would, but I think it is also worth striving to understand it, not just accept it.

  • To #10:
    A friend of mine just interned at one of the most high-powered, big name PR firms in Boston and wrote a Intern Declaration of Rights for a local paper. I’ll send a link if it gets published.

  • Taleb takes his fulminating a step too far with some of his pronouncements. I think he does it for effect– he seems to be as much entertainer as anti-economist.

    I confess, though, I have frequently shared his opinion that almost all bankers are subhuman– R. Gordon Wasson is the only banker I ever found interesting, or who had anything interesting to say (although his most cherished ‘discovery’, that amanita muscaria is the soma of the Rig Veda, remains unconvincing).

    Also, I’d like to see some scientific evidence for the suitability of the paleolithic diet to modern humans. People have been cultivating cereals and pulses for nearly ten thousand years, plenty of time for our physiology to evolve adaptations to a grain and legume based diet.

    I can’t see that an animal protein-heavy diet suitable for a Cro-Magnon who lived 40,000 years ago in a vastly different environment from what most of us experience is necessarily appropriate today.

  • @ Williams, That’s the second time I’ve heard people call bankers ‘subhuman’, I guess I am too young to know why from little experience.

    @ Martha, They aren’t rules, they’re more like guidelines. Common sense that people generally forget when dealing with life.

    Number 7 seems a bit harsh, pessimism doesn’t underline ability, simply a barrier to overcome. Probably the least useful life tip. Number 8 seems a bit foolish and

    “1. Skepticism 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.”

    Probably my favorite.

  • What is he talking about in number 4? I understand that one should be dignified, but um, “for your execution” if properly parsed as correct English means “the planned event at which you are put to death.”

    Or maybe he means just “when you are doing stuff” then wear your best? (but not a tie, apparently).

    Or maybe he is talking about metaphorical executions, like firings? (as if one would know in advance and be able to plan a wardrobe for that one)..

    Or maybe he lives in a country where people regularly get scheduled for execution?

    WTF is he talking about?

  • Calm down Mark. Obviously taking about metaphorical executions like firings and termination. I think his point was like a manager being set before a board of trustees to tell him hes finished.

  • Ben:

    Great stuff. Nassim is an interesting fellow, and like many of his genius brethren, a bit on the edge. Although Nassim’s rules might not fit everyone’s idea of how to be successful, they seem to be working for him. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and maybe following Nassim’s lead can take a hopeful entrepreneur down the path to health, wealth, and happiness?

  • Good stuff. I particularly like #4. An important topic about risk that isn’t given much air time by entrepreneurs or journalists.

    It might be interesting to hear your thoughts on what defines ‘elegant behavior.’

    I would add when in doubt, spend time with your family. They’ll be there for you when you really need support.

    Taking risks and starting several new things can also pay off in the long run. Andreessen has an interesting post on frequency of attempts vs. quality of an attempt.

    The post is called: Age and The Entrepreneur:

  • Ben, I loved these quotes so I went out to B&N on my day off and bought the book (“The Black Swan”), which I have begun reading. Taleb has a beautiful writing style and speaks very poignantly about his childhood in Lebanon.

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