The Black Swan

Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s book has the deliciously sounding subtitle of The Impact Of The Highly Improbable.  For much of its first two-thirds, it fairly races along, making even the casual reader consider that they can indeed understand ‘philosophy’. You cannot fail but to be impressed by his constant insistence and reasoning that a financial crash was just around the corner, for instance.

The final third fails to ram home the promise.  I wanted to learn more around what I could do about (inevitable, unforeseeable) Black Swans, rather than detailed rebuttals of say, bell-curve theory.  And despite the author’s permission given to skip such sections, as the book wears on, the examples lack the earlier clarity and spark and seem more about settling academic fraternity scores.

Nevertheless, for solution selling salespeople, there are some ‘wow’ concepts that really make you think about how you can sell better.  Over the accumulated nine hours I invested in reading this book, I filled two sides of A4 (8½ by 11 for Americans) with notes to try and remind me later of such triggers.

The gist of the book is not to bother with prediction (or a forecast).  It is never accurate.  And some Black Swan always comes along to change the game.  These are rare and wild events, totally unexpected, that lie outside the bounds of the tunnel of possibilities and are ‘unknown unknowns’.

Here, often in the writer’s own awesome words, I restrict myself to twenty of the best sales take-aways:

  1. the money’s in idea generation and organising your know-how into action
  2. it remains the case that you know what is wrong with a lot more confidence than you know what is right
  3. “retrospective plausibility causes a discounting of the rarity and conceivability of an event creating an illusion of understanding”, so avoid the “narrative fallacy” of weaving facts into a reality that could just as easily mean the opposite (“retrospective determinisms”)
  4. add ’cause’ to a statement (“how likely is it that…”)
  5. focus on process, not results
  6. expose ‘silent evidence’
  7. it’s much easier to sell ‘look what I did for you’ rather than ‘look what I avoided for you’
  8. more info never makes better decisions (“statistically sophisticated or complex methods do not necessarily provide more accurate forecasts than simpler ones”)
  9. question error rates of supposed expert’s predictions
  10. beware that people ‘herd’ in their predictions closer to each other, rather than what really ends up happening
  11. plans fail because of tunnelling – the neglect of sources of uncertainty outside the plan itself
  12. the unexpected nearly always pushes in a single direction; higher costs and longer to completion
  13. true serendipity only happens when you are on some kind of Quest
  14. acknowledge the law of iterated expectations – if you expect something then it’s probably already happened (& similarly, when you think of tomorrow do you merely project it as another yesterday?)
  15. randomness is just unknowledge
  16. drive a culture that encourages the process of failure rather one where failure is met with stigma and embarrassment
  17. invest in preparedness, not prediction (Pasteur said “chance favours the prepared”)
  18. make a decision focusing on the consequences (what you know) rather than the probability (which you never can)
  19. understand ‘preferential attachment’ style epidemics (the big get bigger)
  20. The 80/20 rule can also be expressed as 50/01

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