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BR 230: Skin in the Game by Nassim Taleb

Category: 1 – Read ASAP! (All Categories are 1 – Read ASAP!, 2 – BUY it!, 3 – SHELF it, 4 – SOMEDAY it)

Comments: Albert Wenger has a great post explaining why you should read “Skin in the Game” that sums up my thoughts. Nassim Taleb is a brilliant jerk and it comes through in the book. There are moments of brilliance that make it well worth the experience and then there are moments when you are left shaking your head at his desire to pick fights and insult people for the sake of doing so. Albert also makes a great point at the end about reading books from folks we may not always agree with – “This is a good moment to point out that we should all seek out writers with whom we disagree at least some of the time. If we only read books by authors where we agree with every one of their tweets, why bother? What are we expecting to learn? Too many times we are letting our emotional reaction to something an author has said or done stand in the way of engaging with their arguments. Taleb certainly provokes a strong reaction at times, but by all means read “Skin in the Game” nonetheless.”

Top 3 Lessons:

  1. When someone says it is good for you when it is also good for them and when they don’t face downside, it isn’t good for you.
  2. Better fences make better neighbors. It is easier for people to like each other as neighbors than roommates. Interventionists keep trying to get people to not act sectarian when being sectarian is in our nature. Better to use that to keep groups and design systems that encourage us to work with each other. (Powerful implications in management and life)
  3. Loss aversion doesn’t exist (big statement!). The flaw in psychology papers is to believe that the subject doesn’t take any other tail risks anywhere outside the experiment and will never take tail risks again. The idea of “loss aversion” have not been thought through properly –it is not measurable the way it has been measured (if at all mesasurable). Say you ask a subject how much he would pay to insure a 1% probability of losing $100. You are trying to figure out how much he is “overpaying” for “risk aversion” or something even more stupid, “loss aversion”. But you cannot possibly ignore all the other present and future financial risks he will be taking. You need to figure out other risks in the real world: if he has a car outside that can be scratched, if he has a financial portfolio that can lose money, if he has a bakery that may risk a fine, if he has a child in college who may cost unexpectedly more, if he can be laid off. All these risks add up and the attitude of the subject reflects them all. Ruin is indivisible and invariant to the source of randomness that may cause it.

Book notes here.

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