His previous book – Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets – was selected by Fortune as one of “The Smartest Books of All Time” and was published in more than 20 languages. But the real skill in this latest book is his ability to convey these thoughts into words a layperson can understand. Still working in the trading business, Taleb is careful not to get caught up in the paraphernalia that can go along with high profile business positions.
He focuses on the technical, never attends business meetings, avoids the company of “achievers” and people in suits that don’t read books, as well as taking a sabbatical year for every three to “fill the gaps in my scientific and philosophical culture”.
This is one of the key messages from the book: to know what you don’t know, and that one of the only ways to do that is to take some time out to think. A practical example of how this might play out is for fund executives to ask funds managers whether they know what they don’t know. Are all risks measurable, how have they factored into their models the risks they are uncertain of? Surely honesty will help advocate transparency, or lack thereof.
Increasingly, as the market develops, it is more difficult being in the business of superannuation. Funds need to be abreast of the changing needs of members and how to satisfy those with appropriate products. The industry supply chain is evolving and funds’ roles are changing as investment banks, investment managers, consultants and inhouse investment teams all struggle for a new dynamic.
At the same time fund executives are tackling product complexity and the costs of marketing and communication into their business. All of these things need perspective, and one way to achieve that is to take time out and philosophise.
This is why the book has a good message, because it challenges you to stop and think. A number of people in this industry regularly advocate “thinking time” (Jack Gray, Jeff Bresnahan and this magazine’s Greg Bright to name a few) and they all have success on their side.