Fooled by Randomness, The Book to Keep You Safe from the Black Swan
Nassim Nicholas Taleb authored Fooled by Randomness.
An excellent read for architects, but it isn’t about architecture.
The book explores the philosophy of random occurrences that happen throughout life. Stories and case studies describe how perceptions we have about the world are susceptible to random events that may have a dramatic impact outside of our expectations. Sometimes these events are black swans.
Why is this valuable for architects you might be thinking? Architects design buildings with the intent of minimizing risk or unpredicted events. This book also talks about maximizing asymmetric rewards and capping the downside. Combining how architects already think with these other methods for achieving rewards can be very valuable. Avoiding the major downside (a black swan) and capturing the positive asymmetric reward or upside potential.
Book cover on Amazon.
Why does thinking about randomness help architects?
Thinking about randomness is beneficial for architects because some of the perceived successes in our society can be challenged with this thought process. Many biases exist where certain people or processes seem successful. But sometimes luck is a major factor, more than talent or expertise. Stories tell how people ride a wave of success with only luck. Over time the luck usually wears out. Since architects rely heavily on their skillset for delivering buildings it is nice to take a step back and self-reflect and evaluate the biases and randomness in one’s own life.
Survivorship bias of the “starchitect”
In architecture, there is a heavy bias toward “starchitects” and the projects they produce. Sometimes architects think the actual building design is what created the fame for the architect’s work. But, looking at this scenario from a randomness perspective, the fame may have come from a totally unrelated source. An example would be personal relationships or being at the right place at the right time.
Benefits of getting out of the same old mindset
As architects, we are very good at designing and implementing a building design. There is a certain mindset we have to mitigate risk. There are all sorts of risks we mitigate in our process every day. Some include water infiltration, legal issues, zoning, code issues, accessibility, user requirements, building science issues, and cost risk. A major portion of our everyday work life revolves around mitigating these types of risks. Consequently, it may leave other aspects of our lives exposed to potential black swan events or biased thinking.
Does a risk mitigation mindset destroy opportunities or help them?
Unfortunately, it isn’t always beneficial to apply these same risk mitigation strategies to all aspects of our lives. This is where the “fooled by randomness” dilemma plays out. It is interesting to think about what other factors we may be missing. We could essentially be “fooled” by not taking a risk that may have been a more fruitful opportunity.
Probability is explained in this dynamic
Mr. Taleb explains this dynamic by telling stories about stock options traders betting strategies. Therefore, some very successful strategies are based on losing a small amount of money regularly with a chance of getting a big payout every so often. Having a mindset to ride through the losses is difficult and most people don’t have the emotional stamina to wait for the big win.
It hurts more to lose a little and wait for the big win.
An architect is trained to mitigate all losses. Because we are trained this way it prevents architects from having big wins in some instances. As an example, an architect may have success at work but might be struggling personally.
Areas to consider how this dynamic might affect you:
- Financial success? Terrified by investing?
- Can you put yourself out there to make business relationships outside the office?
- How are you doing personally? Do you push yourself outside of your boundaries to make a difference?
- Have you positioned yourself for big gains and small losses in your personal and professional life?
Considerations from Fooled by Randomness and how they contribute to overall happiness
Sections of the book describe how perceptions of success vs. actuality can strongly influence peoples’ perceptions and happiness. Without spoiling the book, the stories talk about common stories people experience and how they have gone astray because of misconceived risks or probabilities. Apply these stories to an architect’s life for more success.
Click the book cover below to view on Amazon.