10 Life Tips from Nassim Taleb

by Cameron Schaefer on June 10, 2008

Trying to get back into the swing of things after over a week without a computer or internet (gasp) I came across a recent post over at Ben Casnocha’s blog that I felt was worth repeating…thanks Ben!

For those of you who have never heard of Nassim Taleb he is best known for his study of randomness, the highly impropable (The Black Swan), markets, and the reason we humans struggle so hard to explain everything. He now gets paid around $60,000 per speaking engagement and most recently wrote The Black Swan…see my review here.

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.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Shanel Yang June 10, 2008 at 9:16 am

I’ve read a lot of self-help lists lately, and this one is the most original and funny. Thanks for sharing it!

Cameron Schaefer June 10, 2008 at 10:06 am

@ Shanel,

Definitely! I agree it is one of the more entertaining and original that I have seen as well. Taleb is one of the guys whom you could listen to or read for hours and never grow bored.

Alik | PracticeThis.com June 10, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Loved #6 a lot. I am software performance engineer and failing gracefully is one of the principles for better performance w/software. Seems like it is applicable to humans too :)

Todd Berryman March 25, 2010 at 3:59 am

Thanks for the list. After reading the black swan, I was looking for a way to react to my new found knowledge. Unfortunately, I did not get a clear map from Taleb after reading his book.

I am a 30 year energy lender, living in a world of black swans, both positive and negative events. I would be glad to share my list for doing business. Here are two rules:

Never lend to a company with a plane on the balance sheet.

Never lend to a company with fancy office space.

Both events mean the money is going to the wrong place, and hence they are less likely to weather a negative black swan.

Best regards,


Cameron Schaefer March 25, 2010 at 11:01 pm

@ Todd,

Your job sounds quite interesting to me – I’d love to sit down for coffee with you someday and hear what a typical day in your shoes entails. Glad you enjoyed the post and I like your two rules, sounds like something Taleb would say.

Joseph Hertzlinger April 10, 2012 at 6:11 pm

Don’t 5 and 7 contradict each other?

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: