Leading Blog






11.29.10

The Bed of Procrustes

Leadership
The Bed of Procrustes: Philosophical and Practical Aphorisms is rich in intellectually satisfying and considered thoughts from the meditations of Nassim Nicholas Taleb. The title, based on the Procrustes of Greek mythology that stretched or chopped off the legs of guests to make them fit his bed, is analogous of his observation of the human tendency to try to make fit that which we understand and lop off that which we don’t. “We humans,” he writes, “facing limits of knowledge, and things we do not observe, the unseen and the unknown, resolve the tension by squeezing life and the world into crisp commoditized ideas, reductive categories, specific vocabularies, and prepackaged narratives, which, on the occasion, has explosive consequences.”

His thoughts are mostly insightful, prophetic, humbling, disarming, or instructive and only occasionally sound like justifications. All are worth reading and ruminating over. They help us to face a world we frequently don’t understand. Here are a baker's dozen to get you started:
  • To understand the liberating effect of asceticism, consider that losing all your fortune is much less painful than losing only half of it.
  • Academia is to knowledge what prostitution is to love; close enough on the surface but, to the nonsucker, not exactly the same thing.
  • People reserve standard compliments for those who do not threaten their pride; the others they often praise by calling “arrogant.”
  • I’d rather be unconditional about ethics and conditional about technology than the reverse.
  • Nobody wants to be perfectly transparent; not to others, certainly not to himself.
  • Your reputation is harmed the most by what you say to defend it.
  • I wonder whether a bitter enemy would be jealous if he discovered that I hated someone else.
  • Someone who says “I am busy” is either declaring incompetence (and lack of control of his life) or trying to get rid of you.
  • Modernity: We created youth without heroism, age without wisdom, and life without grandeur.
  • If my detractors knew me better they would hate me even more.
  • The twentieth century was the bankruptcy of the social utopia; the twenty-first will be that of the technological one.
  • True humility is when you can surprise yourself more than others; the rest is either shyness or good marketing.
When reading Taleb’s aphorisms, we might keep this final one in mind: An idea starts to be interesting when you get scared of taking it to its logical conclusion.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:53 AM
| Comments (0) | This post is about General Business



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