Review and Reflection: Skin in the Game

I listened to Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile: Things that Grow from Disorder a while back (you can find my write-up about it here) and found it to be tremendous, so I got Skin in the Game on Audible (it seemed to be the next-closest thing to my interests).

Taleb has a Google talk related to his concept of “skin in the game”, and it’s a great lesson on life.

Skin in the Game is a collection of musings and ideas that make up the most recent book in the Incerto series.

It’s as much a moral and ethical treatise as anything else, but it has great depth.

Taleb’s writing is masterful, and it’s worth reading. He’s very much a maverick, doing what he wants to do when he writes his books, and it shows in the originality and character he brings to the books.

Skin in the Game (affiliate link) has the same reader as Antifragile on Audible, and the quality of the book itself is fantastic.

I don’t see a need to duplicate my previous review. It’s multidisciplinary, anecdotal and research-backed, and tremendous.

Reflection

The key point of Skin in the Game is that you need to have a situation in your life where you are responsible for your actions to really back up things.

Put another way: someone with nothing at stake if things fail is more likely to make decisions that lead into failure.

By Taleb’s own acknowledgement, Skin in the Game is not really something that has a clearly described topic, but it feels like a coherent whole. Taleb’s willing to call out people when he needs to (as always), and he comes from a unique perspective.

Taleb is someone who has a great practical background, which he then backs up with academic practice. He describes himself as going “from practice to theory”, and that’s very much how the book feels.

This gives him a feeling more of Montaigne than of someone like Hayek. While he lacks some of the skepticism of Montaigne (although he is equally willing to accept his own chances of failure), he is nonetheless able to express his ideas quite cordially in the face of potential contradiction. His arguments are strengthened by the fact that he starts with common sense examples and then moves into the theory.

This makes it tremendously simple to learn from and figure out what Taleb’s points are.

As a writer myself (somewhat aspiring, somewhat successful), I think that’s a great lesson to learn: if you can explain why things are true, then demonstrate how they are true, you’ve made half of your case just by going in that order. Instead, you could wind up with having to explain the theory before you get to the examples and lose your reader before you get to your points.

Taleb’s roots in both the classics and his experiences in his life are great ways of bolstering his more academic points. For someone whose work is incredibly eclectic in its inspirations, examples, and topics, the Incerto has great clarity.

The great question of the Incerto is to ask how one should ask in the face of risk, and the answer seems to be to put skin in the game, and only put deep trust in those who likewise have skin in the game.

People who don’t have skin in the game have more incentive to take risks when the unknown strikes, and the unknown will always strike because everything is changing. Risks taken now can unfold later, and complex situations that are not presently true (or not presently perceived to be true) can lay to ruin the best laid plans of mice and men.

I’ve started listening to The Black Swan, and I’ll keep you posted when I finish it. I’ve already gotten through a lot of it, which is responsible for this reflection being short; I don’t want to blend Taleb’s different works together too much.

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