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Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life Paperback – 5 March 2019
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Why should we never listen to people who explain rather than do? Why do companies go bust? How is it that we have more slaves today than in Roman times? Why does imposing democracy on other countries never work?
The answer- too many people running the world don't have skin in the game. In this provocative book, Nassim Nicholas Taleb shows that skin in the game applies to all aspects of our lives. It's about having something to lose and taking a risk. Citizens, lab experimenters, artisans, political activists and hedge fund traders all have skin in the game. Policy wonks, corporate executives, theoreticians, bankers and most journalists don't.
In his inimitable, pugnacious style, Taleb creates a jaw-dropping framework for understanding this idea. Skin in the Game challenges our long-held beliefs about risk, reward, politics, religion and finance - and makes us rethink everything we thought we knew.
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A great iconoclast. . . Taleb, a Wall Street trader turned essayist, is a thinker touched by genius. . . The big picture he presents is powerfully argued and offers myriad policy implications -- Matthew Syed ― The Times
The most prophetic voice of all . . . Taleb is a genuinely significant philosopher . . . someone who is able to change the way we view the structure of the world through the strength, originality and veracity of his ideas alone -- John Gray ― GQ
Nassim Nicholas Taleb is the Richard Wagner of uncertainty. While the Ring Cycle of the German composer/librettist portrayed the struggle of the gods in a series of operas, the Incerto series of books by the Lebanese-American author is devoted to humans -- specifically how we deal with the endemic risk in our all-too-finite existence -- Dominic Lawson ― Sunday Times
As always with Taleb, this is a fascinating set of ideas. And he's right. People with skin in the game learn how the game works. Without it, they don't -- William Leith ― Evening Standard
The author of The Black Swan is back with a simple warning: don't buy what your neighbour is selling unless he owns some too. The obvious application for this is investing, but Taleb has a much broader domain. In a kind of philosophical Freakonomics, he takes us from 5th-century wandering monks (banned by the church because they were too free) to Donald Trump (his imperfections showed he had skin in the game) -- Rosamund Urwin ― Sunday Times Books of the Year
- Publisher : Penguin Press; 1st edition (5 March 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 304 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0141982659
- ISBN-13 : 978-0141982656
- Dimensions : 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
- Best Sellers Rank: 10,348 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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I loved the section on minority rule in particular, which the author calls the mother of asymmetries. I think this section is very insightful into the art of authentic leadership.
Overall this is a great guide to BS detection and avoidance and ensuring that people without skin in the game don't continue to reap rewards they don't deserve or influence matters based on their self-interest.
I agree with the author that the silver rule is more robust that the golden rule however I still prefer the platinum rule from Tony Alessandra.
This book is also a great guide to living an ethical life. I love this "not everything that happens happens for a reason, but everything that survives survives for a reason."
But underpinned by clarity and integrity with deep thinking grounded in rich experience [and quite possibly some pain].
Totally refreshing traders perspective.
This read is like having a bloody good meal with a difficult but much loved friend. Worth the trouble.
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UPDATE: I did carry on to the end of the book for old times' sake. I left it feeling that Taleb is like a friend who has some dodgy politics, likes to make a lot 0f "controversial" remarks, occasionally makes some insightful points, can be amusing and can also be a crashing bore. In other words, you're pleased to see your old friend but rather relieved when he finally leaves and glad to have a bit of time away from each other before meeting up again.
Some 1,150 days of seclusion in the years following The Black Swan (2007) afforded time not only to devour the 550 or so books listed in the bibliography to the much lengthier Antifragile (2012) but also to develop what he himself previously detested - the random use of borrowed wisdom (though it was fascinating to read why use of the wheel initially disappeared from the Levant after the Arab invasion) - and to wield his keyboard repeatedly and unkindly to hammer perceived nails in the shape of some fine fellow professionals with whom he now finds himself increasingly and violently disagreeing.
In Skin in the Game we see these aberrations taken even further with surprisingly gratuitous and sarcastic references ("Hillary Monsanto-Malmaison, sometimes known as Hillary Clinton" and Joseph Stiglitz as “Intellectual Yet Idiot") along with random Daily Mail-type stories about how increased halal lamb imports from New Zealand and the numbers of automatic shifting vehicles are instances of minority dictatorship and how Italians regard McDonalds in Milan Centrale as refuge from a risky meal. Mr Taleb has of course written that it’s only when you don’t care about your reputation that you tend to have a good one, but it seems to me that after accumulating a steady stream of positive returns he has given us his own unfortunate, highly unexpected event.
In many ways this is a deeply moral book with important messages for how we live. This realization becomes suddenly clear in the rather poetic epilogue, which I loved. Collective action (the game) generates many meaningful benefits, but, to be symmetrical and ethical, it always requires contribution of players, and contribution implies risk (the skin). Taleb has no time for people in authority who don't get this and consequently promote dangerous ideas which lead to ignorant policy or business decisions. For them he reserves his full scorn (for example, in his view, Monsanto and its dangerous development of GM crops). Through ignorance, they risk catastrophically ruining the systems we depend on for everyone for ever.
On the downside, Taleb's style of relentlessly 'speaking truth to power' can feel a bit uncomfortable and negative. However we are compensated by his practical, ethical and logical reasoning - made more clear in an appendix devoted to the maths that underpins the conclusions, and further leavened with fascinating personal stories.
By the way, like many books it's one worth starting at the back with the glossary, where you will be able to learn to speak 'Taleb'.
This is important in the longer run, because non perishable things such as ideas, lifestyle, dietary habits, religions that have survived for a long time, being sufficiently stressed by time, will survive for much longer (Lindy's Effect). But the critical piece here is that the agents espousing these non-perishables should have a skin in the game.
The contrast is the rent seekers, or bureaucrats who only get the upside of their actions (bonuses), but pass on the downside to others citing uncertainty. Thus they get to be in decision making for a long time without being affected by the ill-effects of those decisions.
The book applies the heuristic to multiple areas. Interesting concepts covered in the books include Minority Rule (How intransigent minorities determine the preference of majority), Intellectual Yet Idiots (People who confuse complex systems for simple systems, and prescribe appealing but harmful solutions), Rationality of Religions (The do's & dont's in Religions inspire actions from followers, and these actions have enabled the adherants to survive. Rationality can only be discussed in the context of survival, or rather the avoidance of systemic ruin).
As usual Taleb is witty, names names (Bob Rubin, Thaler, Saudi Princes), acerbic but very insightful.
One thing that Taleb misses out on is application of Lindy's Effect to the relatively longer survival of Lithuanians, Irish and the Hindus who did not have the warrior but the priestly class at the top. Societies which had a warrior class at the top caved in to the invasion by semetic religions in a very short duration. However the adherants of these religions resisted converting to the invading Semetic religions for the longest period. So Lindy does seem to have a role to play here.
Final word: Excellent book. Will be revisiting this one many more times.