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the black swan and the thanksgiving turkey

2012-05-16 - 8:56 a.m.

black swan nesting in a park in sydney, australia
2010 by elaine radford
wild black swan nesting in a park in sydney, australia, not a rare sight in that area

I finished reading The Black Swan, but so much time has passed since I started it, that I found myself reading the updated edition. I don't know why it took me so long to follow up on it, because it's one of the very few books on business, economics, etcetera that I've read that doesn't insult my intelligence.

Don't be the turkey. Don't be the sucker. It's almost a shame that someone has to write a book to say so, but they do, because we're drowning in cant and the bogus. Taleb is refreshingly upfront about the fact that most of the so-called business writers, speakers, and consultants are "snake oil salesmen." They speak a lot of garbage about the Character Ethic and how one must Provide Service to win in business. Oh yeah? What was the great unexpected break-out product of the eighties that created so many billionaires? Pretty sure it was crack cocaine, and it wasn't about Character Ethic or Providing a Service. It was a technological fix that allowed the industry to sell the product $15 a serving to all the losers out there who couldn't buy cocaine when it was $1,000 a gram. After all, there are way more people who think they have $15 to spend on drugs, than there are people who have $1,000 to spend.

For that matter, Bill Gates became a billionaire when he figured out that people didn't want reliable programs. They wanted shitty programs that they could afford.

Ask yourself this: What "service" is being provided by the Angry Birds? Much less, Angry Birds: SPACE! It is cute. Cute is not a service. It's just cute.

I don't know why people can't be honest and admit that making money is only rarely and by accident about providing a service. If you think earning money is about providing service, you have a lot of self-hate and disappointment ahead of you. The American workforce has been the most productive on the globe, for decades now, and the reward for all this service is that real wages are in the toilet for the people who do the real work. Provide service because you think it's the right thing to do, not because you think it will make money.

Taleb is refreshing, as he admits that plenty of good people are silent heroes who will never be known or rewarded for great achievement, and plenty of shady people are out there winning Nobel Prizes or becoming multi-millionaires by manipulating quarterly reports and pushing questionable gambling-based theories. If you pretend to assume that capitalism rewards virtue, a la Stephen Covey, then you are a fraud taking people's money for telling lies. And Covey is hardly the only one, since he has spawned countless "me too" types over the decades. Ugh. Your hotel maid cleaning your room provides more service than a dozen bankers. The money does not follow.

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