Nassim Taleb, the thought-provoking, bestselling author of Fooled by Randomness, Black Swan, and Antifragile, always pokes fun at MBAs, economists, and academic types. What then can we learn from him, given his seemingly evident contempt for the path you are planning to take? How can you use his own thoughts to your advantage towards achieving your post-MBA goals?
Have a Sense of Humor
Well, to put things in perspective, Taleb himself is a Wharton MBA and has served as a professor at NYU. So, the first lesson for everybody would be this: Don’t get too attached to titles and distinctions. Let’s have a sense of humor about ourselves!
Aside from allowing us to enjoy life more, having a sense of humor reduces our biases, making us more conscious of “unknown unknowns.” It also helps us keep our minds open to new experiences and ideas outside the defined “knowledge” in our specific fields.
Be Aware of the Problem with Experts
Taleb also humanizes “experts” – no matter how distinguished they may be in their fields, their error rates are higher than what you would expect. Thus, as you make your career-defining decisions, be sure to keep in mind what the downsides would be if the expert predictions you have relied on fail.
Credentials, jargon and expensive suits can make gurus, economists and military analysts look like real experts, even if they have poor track records of success or predictive abilities. Beware of relying blindly on these “empty suits” who can be anywhere, including CEOs, senior managers and classmates. With no exceptional ability to achieve results, “empty suits” focus on looking and sounding credible, rather than providing real substance. As an MBA, it would help you to develop both the ability to detect these “empty suits,” and still learn skills to effectively communicate with them.
By observing them closely, you can consider adopting the tactics they use that work (while avoiding what doesn’t work) and integrating them into your (hopefully!) sound reasoning and solid plans. This will help you better present your ideas and win people over to help achieve your projects’ objectives and your personal goals.
Domestication of Employees?
In an excerpt from Taleb’s work-in-progress book, Skin in the Game, he shares perspectives on the power structure between employers and employees.
Drawing from his personal experiences and observations, Taleb discusses the evolution of the “company person” into a “companies person”. As a high-potential employee, you will no longer be only concerned about your reputation within your own company, but the times now dictate that you will also want to be attractive to other companies in the event that you have to move on, whether by circumstances or by choice. Taleb argues that caring so much about this reputation and about performance evaluations by your direct superiors is a form of slavery.
Employees who have relocated with their entire families to remote outposts of their companies also fall into the trap of having their whole lives hanging by the whimsical thread of the boss at headquarters. Thus, they cannot be expected to make any radical decisions that could potentially displease their superiors. The employees with the most freedom are often salespeople – they don’t have to worry as much about pleasing their bosses as they hold the potential threat of taking customers with them if they move.
Knowing what you are getting into within the power structure of your role, organization and industry could help serve as an additional guide on how to handle your own expectations and how to plan for your next moves.
You may not completely agree with Taleb’s conclusions, but do consider his thoughts as you navigate your post-MBA career. Being aware of these concepts and lessons may just help your future professional life.
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Written by Edison Cu, a Veritas Prep Head Consultant for INSEAD.