The Black Swan

Michaela bought me The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb for Christmas.

The Black Swan - Cover
The Black Swan - Cover

It was a perspective changing book. I loved it.  Buy it, read it, now!  I’ll wait…..

Right, so now we are in the same head space, wasn’t it just great!  Just like it’s back cover says, The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

I loved the concept that it only takes 1 black swan to prove that All Swans are White is wrong, yet you can never prove it’s correct.  I loved how he expands this idea to show how most people’s concept of risk management is really sticking your head in the sand and hoping for the best.  As they do not manage the risks (the impacts) but use tiny probabilities to feel happy that it won’t happen (short term thinking and looking out for the quarterly/yearly bonus).

Another section that strike me quite personally, was how we cannot forward project.  One example he uses, is that when thinking about buying a new car you get excited about how grand it will be, yet you fail to remember feeling that way about your current car, and you fail to project the loss of that feeling going forward.  So tying that to me, as a software developer. When you get someone else’s code, and the first things you say is what were they thinking, where’s the documentation, it’s all spaghetti.

Yet I fail to see how my grand vision of perfect code, done correctly, will be compromised due to time constraints, or prioritised by business value add. Or how there will be bugs in other sub-systems, needing ugly work around code. I’ll be rushed off my feat, and thus not document it, ever, and when asked to, I’ll ask documents (which will ages quickly) or bug fix, and you know what will win. And that’s how it is, because of the scale of software we are developing, and how we are part of a bigger company, thus need to be profitable and resources are limited (as the really should be). So I give myself all the credit of plans, and saying it’s alright to shortcut here, I’ll fix it later, but all my predecessors were muppets, that had no vision, and wrote unreadable code!

So my current mental track is to try forgive others, as I hope to be forgiven myself.

I enjoyed this book enough, that as I was reading it, I was already looking forward to reading it again, as I couldn’t recall all the things that made me go - da, now you point it out!, but it sure happened a lot.  Michaela got tired of me excitedly recalling (poorly) the book to her!

Wikipedia’s The Black Swan page is quite a good summary.