How To Benefit From Unpredictability

How to benefit from unpredictability  – The Impact of the Highly Improbable

I’ve just finished reading a fabulous book called the Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The following is a compilation of the best bits from that book.

Apparently we humans have an inability to predict outliers (outliers are what Taleb calls the black swans). And that, therefore, implies that we have also the inability to predict the course of history (even though we kid ourselves that we can predict it).

Knowledge about the past does not help us to forecast what is going to happen tomorrow (but we believe it does).

As Peter Drucker said, ”Trying to predict the future is like trying to drive down a country road at night with no lights while looking out the back window”.

Taleb believes that we have ‘blind spots’ of perception, regarding our own [lack of accurate] predictions.

Reasons for this include:

  • You tell yourself that you failed because you were really playing a different game.
  • You invoke the outlier (i.e. you are not to blame, the outlier is to blame because it is unpredictable)
  • You compensate yourself by saying that you were ‘almost right’


3 Attributes of the outliers (Black Swan situations)

  1. unpredictability
  2. consequences
  3. retrospective explainability


The good bit…

Knowing that you cannot predict does not mean that you cannot benefit from unpredictability.

  1. Be prepared for all relevant eventualities.
  2. Know how to rank beliefs not according to their plausibility, but by the harm they may cause
  3. Make a distinction between positive contingencies and negative ones, and take maximum exposure to the positive ones.



The strategy [in life] is, then, to tinker as much as possible and try to collect as many Black Swan opportunities as you can.

  1. Put yourself in situations where favourable consequences are much higher than unfavourable ones
  2. If you engage in a Black-Swan dependent activity, it is better to be part of a group [group members can be ostracised together, which is better than being ostracised alone]
  3. When making decisions, focus on the consequences (which you know) , rather than the probability (which you don’t know).
  4. Stop sweating the small stuff – remember that because of the miracle of your existence ( a minute probability – see ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything’) you are a Black Swan and life is a gift.
  5. Be suspicious of making a ‘because’ to explain anything retrospectively. Try to limit it to situations where the ‘because’ is derived from experiments, not backwards-looking history ( see also Druckers way of getting reliable information).
  6. Train yourself to spot the difference between the sensational and the empirical
  7. Train your reasoning abilities to control your decisions.
  8. If you do have to ever heed a forecast, keep in mind that its accuracy degrades rapidly as you extend it through time.


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