So, I was fretting about underdogs in the last post. This past weekend, the Sunday Times Magazine ran a long interview with Nassim Taleb in which he was described as “now the hottest thinker in the world”, charging up to $60,000 per speaking engagement, with the great and good beating a path to his door — from the world’s leading banks to NASA.

Interestingly, the interview by Bryan Appleyard included lunch and, naturally, had Nassim following Art De Vany‘s dietary prescriptions of evolutionary fitness. Well, some of my most loyal readers will have heard it here first.

For other reasons (and by accident) I found an old email pitch yesterday that I made in 2003 to a magazine on corporate governance; let’s say this was during my ugly duckling phase:-

Also, I have an interview idea which you might be interested in. Have you heard of a book Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb–a maths professor and hedge fund trader from the US? He is in town in a few weeks and I thought I might try and get a hold of him. Although his background is in quantitative trading, he has some interesting things to say about luck and probability in a business context, and it has struck me that this could provide some interesting reflections from a corporate governance point of view. The underlying theme would be that over-remunerating senior executives is even more hazardous than we think if both success and failure may owe more to luck than judgement, backed up by a good dose of sound mathematics of course.

Let me know if you think it a bit too outlandish. My owns sense is that Taleb and others are leading market thinkers and their ideas will permeate downwards in due course.

I didn’t get a commission.

Back in those days, even though Fooled By Randomness was a bestseller, you could still turn up at the now-disappeared Financial World Bookshop in Bishopsgate and hear Taleb talk for nothing to a small and select audience of besuited quants and the odd unshaven, head-scratching scribe. And you try and tell that to the young people of today — will they believe you? No.

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Tweet Some will be surprised by the shenanigans which led to UK mortgage lender Northern Rock yesterday tapping the Bank of England for an emergency loan facility. One pensioner, queuing outside the bank today to extract his savings, described the cold sweat and sleepless night he’d had after hearing the late radio news announcement of […]

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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