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March 04, 2008

Do you feel smart?

Well, do you, punk?*

This World is run by self-involved creatures (yours truly included) prone and programmed, for at least optimism's sake, to think that a success means "I am smart". And why not? We all like to think that hard work pays off. Certainly, work done right helps your odds. But for years (since 8th grade at Indian Hill Jr. High School in Cincinnati, to be exact) I've wondered why things, especially certain strategies, do work out--or don't--and if I should take credit for them when they do. Is it really me "making things happen"? Is it generally the talent of the doer(s)? If so, is there a formula?

Or is it something else? Luck, odds, Irish fairies, Fergus the Great, maybe?

I started thinking about it again reading Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in the Markets and in Life, an earlier book of Black Swann author Nassim Nicholas Taleb. This is a humbling and wonderful book. Luck or "not-smart" factors, it seems, may create success. However, if you are not 99% accurate in your view of your true abilities (most of us, of course, are not), do not give this book as a gift to your immediate boss who made you rich. It will shatter you both. It also concludes: Yes, Virginia, smarts are out there--but they are probably not yours. Oh, well. Dang.

And if the company you work for ever figures that out, it might try to get the stock options back. Read the book--but keep it to yourself.

*With a nod to Inspectors Callahan, and Dan Harris of China Law Blog.

Posted by JD Hull at March 4, 2008 01:16 PM


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