Tweet A friend sent me this story, which has Nassim eating dim sum somewhere in London with Bloomberg. For those who did not think my own coverage (almost a year ago now) contained enough finance, this more than makes up for it. But then, I think we now know that bad things happen big time […]

cultural ties


I try not to write on events in anything like real time. Think of it as a contrarian posture of a blogger who spent 15 years in newswires. But yesterday’s reporting on the intimidation of British Council officials in Russia cuts conveniently into my current Russian reveries. It also highlights, in a small way, what I learned at a seminar I attended on Wednesday at University College London.

The kind people at UCL let unaffiliated roughnecks like me in for free at the London Judgement and Decision Making Group meetings. Terry Connolly, Eller Professor of Management and Organizations at the University of Arizona, was talking about Regret and the Perils of Decisional Improvement. His themes are some that I’ll return to in coming weeks, I hope, because regrets (you guessed it), I’ve had a few.

When I was a student (and briefly after) I confess that I did occasionally wear bow ties. Once I’d figured out how to tie the pesky things, it was a badge of honour. With someone of my social background it represented a bit of cheap sophistication. But bow ties don’t really work in the rough and tumble of a Fleet Street newsroom. So pretty soon after I started work I stopped wearing them. I still have most of the tweedy garb from that period, and it allows me to go to fancy dress parties and pretend to be Mr Toad. There are some bow-tie-wearing journalists around still, and you can learn more about their bad temper here, and how they hacked off the hack (though not really) here.

This is the story of the first bow tie I ever owned and how I parted company with it, overcoming the kind of “regret salience” that Prof Connolly describes. Continue reading ‘cultural ties’

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Five years ago, I wrote a letter to the bow tie-wearing Bloomberg editor-in-chief Matt Winkler. Finally, today I get an email back from the company. But, you guessed it, through the passage of five years they have managed to entirely miss the point of my original proposal! They want me, the Knackered Hack, holed up in the long-tail of journalism to promote a podcast they have done with Nassim Taleb. If you are me, there is a rich irony in all this. If you are not me, it is Friday afternoon and you have better things to do.

As I recall, the gist of that old letter to Winkler was to say what a good idea it would be for his news organization to be less hierarchical and develop a more networked model of journalistic interaction. My experience had suggested that that was the way large editorial groups needed to operate to have a chance of scaling our ever more complex news environment effectively, by sharing expertise more readily in real-time. Those people who know the Bloomberg news organization would probably tell me that I didn’t have a prayer. Continue reading ‘bloomberg not real-time at all’

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Taleb on Journalism, Blogs, and TV

Back in his days as a mathematical options trader, Nassim Taleb used to watch financial TV with the sound turned off. That way he could remind himself that the journalists and pundits — with their endless commentary and market predictions — were more noise than substance. He made that confession in his second book, Fooled by Randomness (2001).

As a former financial newswire journalist, with some 15 years’ Fleet Street experience, I have found his indifference to the fruits of my toil a little unnerving. But, there are some grounds for hope. Taleb has also written that journalism is important because it’s the way we find out about the world. But every time I’ve heard him speak, he is always quick to mention that he doesn’t read newspapers — so one should not ask what he thinks about the news, a Google IPO, or whether US real estate is in a bubble.

Real-time journalism has mushroomed since Fooled by Randomness was published, and besides the plethora of news providers, there are more blogs and self-appointed experts out there than you can shake a stick at. So I felt safe with the assumption that Taleb would still be screening out unnecessary sound and fury, that he’d be dismissive of this new technological Tower of Babel. But as he tucked into his Tandoori chicken, The Black Swan author told me that he’s actually an avid reader of blogs. Continue reading ‘Caveman lunch with taleb – part 2′

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