May 14, 2007

Staff Picks: An excerpt from The Black Swan

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 3:11 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Visit our Excerpts Blog to read an excerpt from The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Here are a few of the media hits Taleb has received: And here's what we've written about it on our site: From the book:
What we call here a Black Swan (and capitalize it) is an event with the following three attributes. First, it is an outlier, as it lies outside the realm of regular expectations, because nothing in the past can convincingly point to its possibility. Second, it carries an extreme impact. Third, in spite of its outlier status, human nature makes us concoct explanations for its occurrence after the fact, making it explainable and predictable. I stop and summarize the triplet: rarity, extreme impact, and retrospective (though not prospective) predictability.* (* The highly expected not happening is also a Black Swan. Note that, by symmetry the occurrence of a highly improbable event is the equivalent of the nonoccurrence of a highly probable one.) A small number of Black Swans explain almost everything in our world, from the success of ideas and religions, to the dynamics of historical events, to elements of our own personal lives... The central idea of this book concerns our blindness with respect to randomness, particularly the large deviations: Why do we, scientists or nonscientists, hotshots or regular Joes, tend to see the pennies instead of the dollars? Why do we keep focusing on the minutiae, not the possible significant large events, in spite of the obvious evidence of their huge influence?
Here's a direct link to the excerpt:

About Dylan Schleicher

Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.