Feeling Lucky

I’m in the middle of reading Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, an absolutely fascinating book that has me thinking a lot about luck. One of the main premises addressed how we try to attribute skill or intelligence to events that are due more to chance. In actuality, we often have very little to do with our supposed success. Sometimes, events just happen outside of our control, both good and bad.

In spite of this reality, it doesn’t keep us from trying to arrange circumstances to our advantage. How much time do you spend trying to control the world around you versus enjoying the experience? In some respects, I think we give too much power to this idea that we have control. As Taleb does an excellent job of pointing out, not only in Fooled but in his more recent The Black Swan, all it takes is one event to shift the balance or change the outcome.

I think that’s why we’re inclined to laugh, even if only on the inside, when individuals purport to control events. For example, the guy who things he can control a viral event makes me shake my head. I think a successful viral is all about this idea of chance and the random event that triggers the spread of an idea. Otherwise, how is it any different from a traditional campaign?

Now it’s confession time…I’m a bit of a control freak. My inner self would love to believe that it can manage and maneuver in such a way to successfully predict every outcome. Reality has proven otherwise, and I’m coming to terms with my failure to control life. It’s a work in progress.

I think that’s why I enjoyed Taleb’s description of humankind:

“…there is the Tragic Vision of humankind that believes in the existence of inherent limitations and flaws in the way we think and act…the ideas of this book fall squarely into the Tragic category: We are faulty and there is no need to bother trying to correct our flaws. We are so defective and so mismatched to our environment that we can just work around these flaws…Perhaps ridding ourselves of our humanity is not in the works; we need wily tricks, not some grandiose moralizing help.”

Anyone willing to share their wily tricks?



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January 2008
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