Nassim Taleb’s Commencement Address


I love commencement addresses. Hats off to Shane Parrish at Farnam Street Blog for posting about Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s commencement address at the American University in Beirut. I found the last few paragraphs of the speech to be the most interesting:

I am just describing my life. I hesitate to give advice because every major single piece of advice I was given turned out to be wrong and I am glad I didn’t follow them. I was told to focus and I never did. I was told to never procrastinate and I waited 20 years for The Black Swan and it sold 3 million copies. I was told to avoid putting fictional characters in my books and I did put in Nero Tulip and Fat Tony because I got bored otherwise. I was told to not insult the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal; the more I insulted them the nicer they were to me and the more they solicited Op-Eds. I was told to avoid lifting weights for a back pain and became a weightlifter: never had a back problem since.

If I had to relive my life I would be even more stubborn and uncompromising than I have been

One should never do anything without skin in the game. If you give advice, you need to be exposed to losses from it. It is an extension to the silver rule. So I will tell you what tricks I employ.
• Do not read the newspapers, or follow the news in any way or form. To be convinced, try reading last years’ newspaper. It doesn’t mean ignore the news; it means that you go from the events to the news,not the other way around.
• If something is nonsense, you say it and say it loud. You will be harmed a little but will be antifragile – in the long run people who need to trust you will trust you. When I was still an obscure author, I walked out of a studio Bloomberg Radio during an interview because the interviewer was saying nonsense. Three years later Bloomberg Magazine did a cover story on me. Every economist on the planet hates me(except of course those of AUB).
I’ve suffered two smear campaigns, and encouraged by the most courageous Lebanese ever since Hannibal, Ralph Nader, I took reputational risks by exposing large evil corporations such as Monsanto, and suffered a smear campaign for it.
• Treat the doorman with a bit more respect than the big boss.
• If something is boring, avoid it –save taxes and visits to the mother in law. Why? Because your biology is the best nonsense detector; use it to navigate your life.

The No-Nos

There are a lot of such rules in my books, so for now let
me finish with a maxim. The following are no-nos:

Muscles without strength,
friendship without trust,
opinion without risk,
change without aesthetics,
age without values,
food without nourishment,
power without fairness,
facts without rigor,
degrees without erudition,
militarism without fortitude,
progress without civilization,
complication without depth,
fluency without content,
and, most of all, religion without tolerance.

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