Contrary to social science wisdom, almost no discovery, no technologies of note, came from design and planning–they were just Black Swans. The strategy for the discoverers and entrepreneurs is to rely less on top-down planning and focus on maximum tinkering and recognizing opportunities when they present themselves … The reason free markets work is because they allow people to be lucky, thanks to aggressive trial and error, not by giving rewards or “incentives” for skill. The strategy is, then, to tinker as much as possible and try to collect as many Black Swan opportunities as you can.
Not sure about that assertion that all significant technical and technological discoveries have happened due to dumb luck (I’ve only gotten through part one, and it looks like he spells this out in more detail in part two). Regardless, I quite like this idea. And not just because it allows me to rationalize my inherent tendencies towards disorganization…
At the very least, this kind of Black Swan strategy distills for me why it’s just as important to pay attention to the noise as it is to the signal. I love the feeling of the serendipitous discovery, even if I have to slog through a lot of random stuff to make a good find.
Aside: & what’s a Black Swan exactly? According to Taleb, it’s an event that we didn’t see coming, yet carries significant impact. And that afterwards, we tend to create some kind of explanation as to why it happened, instead of just admitting that we don’t know. The metaphor comes from the discovery of black swans by Europeans in Australia, which invalidated the conventional wisdom that all swans were white.
Most often we think of Black Swans in negative terms, such as the current financial crisis. But they can be positive too — for many, the arrival of the WWW would qualify as a positive Black Swan. There — now you don’t need to read the book ;+)