Monday, May 18, 2009

For the Graduate

I recently attended my son's college graduation and among the speakers we heard from was the Chancellor of the university. One of his directives/cautions to the graduates was to be aware of the phenomenon of black swans. The book of the same title, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, explores the tendency of people across the disciplinary spectrum to learn the specifics when they should be focused on generalities. Because we concentrate on the things we already know and fail to consider what we don't know, we miss opportunities to imagine, let alone realize, the "impossible". We are constantly surprised by the unpredictable and only after the fact do we try to explain these random occurrences. His message, it seems to me, is to think "outside of the box". Not a new one perhaps, but in his book Taleb offers us tricks and strategies for encountering our world in a new way. That's not a bad skill set to possess. The old techniques seem to have failed us on many fronts.

So, if the perfect graduation gift has eluded you, I recommend The Black Swan.

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