Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s became famous for his book The Black Swan that taught us to look out for the unexpected X-Factor.
He also wrote The Bed of Procrustes, a collection of hundreds of “philosophical and practical aphorisms” – pithy one-line quotes full of meaning and importance.
I’ve selected a number of these that struck me as financial or life lessons.
Who knows they may even make you a better investor.
1. Education makes the wise slightly wiser, but it makes the fool vastly more dangerous.
2. You are rich if and only if money you refuse tastes better than money you accept.
3. The tragedy is that much of what you think is random is in your control and, what’s worse, the opposite.
4. To bankrupt a fool, give him information.
5. The best test of whether someone is extremely stupid (or extremely wise) is whether financial and political news makes sense to him.
6. The stock market, in brief: participants are calmly waiting in line to be slaughtered while thinking it is for a Broadway show.
7. A prophet is not someone with special visions, just someone blind to most of what others see.
8. It takes a lot of intellect and confidence to accept that what makes sense doesn’t really make sense.
9. The fastest way to become rich is to socialize with the poor; the fastest way to become poor is to socialize with the rich.
10. The characteristic feature of the loser is to bemoan, in general terms, mankind’s flaws, biases, contradictions, and irrationality-without exploiting them for fun and profit.
11. “Wealthy” is meaningless and has no robust absolute measure; use instead the subtractive measure “unwealth,” that is, the difference, at any point in time, between what you have and what you would like to have.
12. What I learned on my own I still remember.
13. The calamity of the information age is that the toxicity of data increases much faster than its benefits.
14. The sucker’s trap is when you focus on what you know and what others don’t know, rather than the reverse.
15. What they call “risk” I call opportunity; but what they call “low risk” opportunity I call a sucker problem.
16. The best test of whether someone is extremely stupid (or extremely wise) is whether financial and political news makes sense to him.
17. You can be certain that the head of a corporation has a lot to worry about when he announces publicly that “there is nothing to worry about.”
18. The main difference between government bailouts and smoking is that in some rare cases the statement “this is my last cigarette” holds true.
19. They would take forecasting more seriously if it were pointed out to them that in Semitic languages the words for forecast and “prophecy” are the same.
20. The three most harmful addictions are heroin, carbohydrates, and a monthly salary.
21. Education makes the wise slightly wiser, but makes the fool vastly more dangerous.
22. The best revenge on a liar is to convince him that you believe what he said.
23. Even the cheapest misers can be generous with advice.
24. The most painful moments are not those we spend with uninteresting people; rather, they are those spent with uninteresting people trying hard to be interesting.
25. You don’t become completely free by just avoiding being a slave; you also need to avoid becoming a master.
26. Some, like most bankers, are so unfit for success that they look like dwarves in giants’ clothes.
27. Over the long term, you are more likely to fool yourself than others.
28. It is those who use others who are the most upset when someone uses them.
29. A genius is someone with flaws harder to imitate than his qualities.
30. It is much less dangerous to think like a man of action than to act like a man of thought.
31. Regular minds find similarities in stories (and situations); finer minds detect differences.
32. You can only convince people who think they can benefit from being convinced.
33. Trust people who make a living lying down or standing up more than those who do so sitting down.
34. The difference between magnificence and arrogance is in what one does when nobody is looking.
35. When conflicted between two choices, take neither.
36. You know you have influence when people start noticing your absence more than the presence of others.
37. They will envy you for your success, your wealth, for your intelligence, for your looks, for your status – but rarely for your wisdom.
38. The imagination of the genius vastly surpasses his intellect; the intellect of the academic vastly surpasses his imagination
39. I suspect the I.Q., SAT, and school grades are tests designed by nerds so they can get high scores in order to call each other intelligent…
40. Smart and wise people who score low on IQ tests, or patently intellectually defective ones, like the former U.S. president George W. Bush, who score high on them (130), are testing the test and not the reverse.
41. The curious mind embraces science; the gifted and sensitive, the arts; the practical, business; the leftover becomes an economist
42. In poor countries, officials receive explicit bribes; in D.C. they get the sophisticated, implicit, unspoken promise to work for large corporations
43. Suckers think that you cure greed with money, addiction with substances, expert problems with experts, banking with bankers, economics with economists, and debt crises with debt spending