I pushed through the end of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan this week, and while I can say I really enjoyed it, by the end the disparaging tone he takes whenever talking about traders or economists wore a little thin. I have no stake in either of those professions, but once a point has been made and an opinion established (neither of which are crucial for the book’s central argument), reiterating it at every conceivable opportunity insults the readers who have come along for the ride. OK, we get it Nassim, you don’t respect (for the most part) economists and traders, but I didn’t pay the price of admission to wade through you settling personal vendettas, that was achieved when I bought your book and not your rival’s.
Having said that, there is a lot of value to be gleaned between the book’s covers. It rambles in places but the central idea which I’ve been summing up as (rightly or wrongly, feel free to offer an alternative viewpoint) “the distinction between two sentences: “there is no evidence of black swans” and “there is evidence of no black swans”. Whatever issue I take with the author in the above paragraph, I find that idea and the way at which we arrive at those sorts of statements fascinating.
Nassim also hits a couple other great points which are tackled in a much more straight forward fashion in the next book I picked up, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Written by two brothers, Chip and Dan Heath, it explores, well, exactly what it says. Both brothers have spent time as educators in some fashion, and convey their thoughts in indelibly straight forward terms.
The cross-over between the two books comes in the emphasis both place on the power of narrative. As human beings we love a story! We have told them throughout history, sometimes for lessons, all of the time for entertainment. Stories are much more powerful than facts; that notion gets played out every night on the evening news. Made to Stick talks a lot about using that to your advantage, citing screenwriting guru Robert McKee as opposed to a litany of philosophers and thinkers who add limited value without extended research. Nassim attempts to use his own journey as a way of taking the reader through to his point, but an idea that comes up in the first hundred pages of Made to Stick is one he could have benefited from: simplifying a message can give it more impact and not dumb it down.
I’m not even halfway through Made to Stick yet so bear with me on it. I’m already making moves to apply it to my daily work habits though and enjoying the “Clinics” interspersed through the book, an opportunity to apply the thinking you’ve just learnt. If like me you love learning and hate the classroom, consider this one, so far, indispensable.