Nassim Nicholas Taleb is a Lebanese-American, Scholar, essayist, mathematical statistician, and risk analyst whose writings and thoughts about topics like probability, randomness, and uncertainty have influenced countless people worldwide.
Taleb was born in Amioun, Lebanon, in 1960. He received his undergraduate degree and a Masters of Science degree from the University of Paris. He also holds an MBA from Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and a Ph.D. in Management Science from Paris Dauphine University.
Taleb has been a distinguished co-editor-in-chief of the popular academic journal Risk and Decision Analysis since 2014. On top of that, Nassim has been a hedge fund manager, practitioner of mathematical finance, and a derivative trader. Currently, he is listed as a scientific adviser; Universa Investment. He has been a professor in several universities including New York University Tandon School of Engineering where he has served as a professor of Risk Engineering since September 2008.
In 2007, he published The Black Swan, a book that been described as one of the twelve most influential books in the world since World War II, according to The Sunday Times. He has written many more books since then and as of 2021 his main writings can be found in the Incerto, a five-volume philosophical essay about uncertainty and risk management principles. This book collection contains books published between 2001 and 2018.
If you want to read some of Nassim’s incredible books, I highly recommend buying The Incerto – the collection of all of his most influential writings to date.
And now, on to the quotes…
Our Favorite Nassim Taleb Quotes
1. “Avoid losers. If you hear someone use the words ‘impossible’, ‘never’, ‘too difficult’ too often, drop him or her from your social network.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
2. “When you develop your opinions on the basis of weak evidence, you will have difficulty interpreting subsequent information that contradicts these opinions, even if this new information is obviously more accurate.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
3. “They think that intelligence is about noticing things are relevant (detecting patterns); in a complex world, intelligence consists in ignoring things that are irrelevant (avoiding false patterns).”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
4. “Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
5. “The curious mind embraces science; the gifted and sensitive, the arts; the practical, business; the leftover becomes an economist.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
6. “If you take risks and face your fate with dignity, there is nothing you can do that makes you small; if you don’t take risks, there is nothing you can do that makes you grand, nothing.”– Nassim NicholasTaleb
7. “If you are an Arabic-speaking, Greek-Orthodox going to a French school it makes you deeply sceptical if you have to listen to three different accounts of the Crusades – one from the Muslim side, one from the Greek side and one from the Catholic side.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
8. “I select a very small number of things to be sceptical about, such as markets, and on these I am hypersceptic. But I want to be fooled by randomness in art. I want the ceremonial of religion; we are made for it.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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9. “We have this culture of financialization. People think they need to make money with their savings rather with their own business. So you end up with dentists who are more traders than dentists. A dentist should drill teeth and use whatever he does in the stock market for entertainment.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
10. “Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg didn’t finish college. Too much emphasis is placed on formal education – I told my children not to worry about their grades but to enjoy learning.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
11. “The fragile wants tranquility, the antifragile grows from disorder, and the robust doesn’t care too much.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
12. “Religion isn’t so much about telling man that there is one God as about preventing man from thinking that he is God.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
13. “Medieval man was a cog in a wheel he did not understand; modern man is a cog in a complicated system he thinks he understands.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
14. “The complex world, the notion of ’cause’ itself is suspect; it is either nearly impossible to detect or not really defined—another reason to ignore newspapers, with their constant supply of causes for things.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
15. “The knowledge we get by tinkering, via trial and error, experience, and the workings of time, in other words, contact with the earth, is vastly superior to that obtained through reasoning, something self-serving institutions have been very busy hiding from us.”–Nassim NicholasTaleb
16. “When you ask people, ‘What’s the opposite of fragile?,’ they tend to say robust, resilient, adaptable, solid, strong. That’s not it. The opposite of fragile is something that gains from disorder.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
17. “Nature builds things that are antifragile. In the case of evolution, nature uses disorder to grow stronger. Occasional starvation or going to the gym also makes you stronger, because you subject your body to stressors and gain from them.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
18. “People have the problem of denial. This is one of the things I learned in Lebanon. Everybody who left Beirut when the war started, including my parents, said, ‘Oh, its temporary.’ It lasted 17 years! People tend to underestimate the gravity of these situations. That’s how they work.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
19. “Doctors most commonly get mixed up between absence of evidence and evidence of absense.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
20. “This is the tragedy of modernity: as with neurotically overprotective parents, those trying to help are often hurting us the most.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
21. “I will repeat the following until I am hoarse: it is contagion that determines the fate of a theory in social science, not its validity.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
22. “The imagination of the genius vastly surpasses his intellect; the intellect of the academic vastly surpasses his imagination.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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23. “true humility is when you can surprise yourself more than others; the rest is either shyness or good marketing.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
24. “If you want to get an idea of a friend’s temperament, ethics, and personal elegance, you need to look at him under the tests of severe circumstances, not under the regular rosy glow of daily life.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
25. “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
26. “When you write, you don’t have the social constraints of having people in front of you, so you talk about abstract matters.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
27. “I no longer care about the financial system. I gave them my roadmap. OK? Thanks, bye. I’ve no idea what’s going on. I’m disconnected. I’m totally disengaged.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
28. “In social policy, when we provide a safety net, it should be designed to help people take more entrepreneurial risks, not to turn them into dependents. This doesn’t mean that we should be callous to the underprivileged.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
29. “Few understand that procrastination is our natural defense, letting things take care of themselves and exercise their antifragility; it results from some ecological or naturalistic wisdom, and is not always bad — at an existential level, it is my body rebelling against its entrapment. It is my soul fighting the Procrustean bed of modernity.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
30. “Answer e-mails from junior people before more senior ones. Junior people have further to go and tend to remember who slighted them.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
31. “We know from chaos theory that even if you had a perfect model of the world, you’d need infinite precision in order to predict future events. With sociopolitical or economic phenomena, we don’t have anything like that.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
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32. “If you hear a “prominent” economist using the word ‘equilibrium,’ or ‘normal distribution,’ do not argue with him; just ignore him, or try to put a rat down his shirt.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
33. “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.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
34. “The psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer has a simple heuristic. Never ask the doctor what you should do. Ask him what he would do if he were in your place. You would be surprised at the difference.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
35. “We should probably stop trading derivatives, anything more complex than regular options … I am an options trader, and I don’t understand options. How do you want a regulator to understand them?”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
36. “Practitioners are usually too busy practitioning to write books, articles, papers, speeches, equations, theories and get honored by Highly Constipated and Honorable Members of Academies).”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
37. “It is no secret that large corporations prefer people with a family; those with downside risk are easier to own, particularly when they are choking under a large mortgage.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
38. “By definition, what works cannot be irrational; about every single person I know who has chronically failed in business shares that mental block, the failure to realize that if something stupid works (and makes money), it cannot be stupid.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
39. “My lesson from Soros is to start every meeting at my boutique by convincing everyone that we are a bunch of idiots who know nothing and are mistake-prone, but happen to be endowed with the rare privilege of knowing it.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
40. “When you walk the walk, whether successful or not, you feel more indifferent and robust to people’s opinion, freer, more real.”– Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Video: Nassim Nicholas Taleb Speaks about Skin in the Game at Google
American essayist, scholar and former trader Nassim Nicholas Taleb, whose work focuses on problems of randomness, probability, and uncertainty, discusses his latest book Skin in the Game.
In this talk, Nassim explores the notion that “skin in the game” is necessary for fairness, commercial efficiency, and risk management – and key to making sense of the world at large.
Altogether, Nassim Taleb is a unique and truly innovative thinker. That is often said about people, but he truly stands out in apply a variety of concepts across disciplines (economics, risk theory, history, psychology, governance) to lay out principles, and he then shows you how they apply to concepts in the real world.
His writings are complex and hard to understand at times. But if you put the time in and persist, they will literally change the way you think and how you view the world.
Image Credit: “Nassim Nicholas Taleb” by Salzburg Global Seminar is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
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