Was hurricane Sandy one of Nassim Nicholas Taleb's "black swans?" Those, as he explained in his book by that title are unexpected events which have huge impacts on society. Or was it, if we have believed the information climate change advocates have been telling us, completely predictable?
Since he published "Black Swans" society has been asking those kinds of questions and listening to whatever Taleb says. Most recently he has published a new book "Antifragile." Reviews, such as this one from THE GUARDIAN, tend to praise his thinking but pan his mode of presentation which they see as needing a good editor. Well, if we overlook the seeming stylistic flaws, there are lessons to take to heart.
In the book Taleb argues that members of society have become soft and therefore unable to deal with and perhaps even gain from chaos. This in itself is not new. In the early 1980s when the U.S. received competition in international trade from Japan, management theorist Peter Drucker published his book "Turbulence." In it he made clear that upheavals could be threats or opportunities.
What is new are the examples which Taleb uses, such as how the self employed are better positioned for chaos since we can keep adjusting to the aberrations in the marketplace. On the other hand, those with jobs who lose their jobs lose all. In Drucker's time we were still a nation of wage earners.
Finally, there is respect for ordinary free agents such as myself who are simply earning a good living through our wits, not building the next Facebook. Taleb has picked up on the growing phenomenon of microbusinesses. That is, for any number of reasons we solo players or a handful of players hang out our shingle and slug it out every day in the uncertain volatile marketplace Taleb describes in "Antifragile."
The ability to do this is what makes us survivors compared to those, such as many lawyers, who get knocked out of the employment box or never get in and are unable to put together a way to earn a decent living. Taleb may be onto something when he describes them as "fragile."