Packing Light(?)

Packing for Mauritius, Sweden, and misc American destinations. Thanks to British carryon restrictions, pruning of my normal load is mandatory.


I am really & truly uncomfortable unless I am accompanied by my “bibles,” or a hearty subset thereof.

As I’ve said many times before, all my training and observation cause me to throw oceans of icy water on the idea of linearity, rationality, and plans that matter.

Hence my biblical/iconic books, several mentioned before:

#1, no contender for the spot, Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. It starts this way: “This book is about luck disguised and perceived as non-luck (that is, skills) and more generally randomness disguised and perceived as non-randomness. It manifests itself in the shape of the lucky fool, defined as a person who benefited from a disproportionate share of luck but attributed his success to some other, generally precise reason.” “We underestimate the share of randomness in just about everything, a point that might not merit a book—except when it is the specialist who is the fool of all fools.” “Mild success can be explainable by skills and labor. Wild success is attributable to variance.”

Mr Taleb, a Wall Street trader among other incarnations, has favored us with a companion: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.

Mr Taleb waxes poetic about the work of Philip Tetlock. My tome of Tetlock’s is Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know? Experts take a beating (thrashing is more like it) in these insanely well researched pages. A sample from the dust jacket: “A fox, the thinker who knows many little things, draws from an eclectic array of disciplines, and is better able to improvise in response to changing events, is more successful in predicting the future than the hedgehog, who knows one big thing, toils devotedly within one tradition, and imposes formulaic solutions on ill defined problems.”

Two others in this genre:

Scott Page’s The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. Consider: “Diverse groups of problem solvers—groups of people with diverse tools—consistently outperformed groups of the best and the brightest. If I formed two groups, one random (and therefore diverse) and one consisting of the best individual performers, the first group almost always did better. … Diversity trumped ability.”

The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki. More of the same … I can never get enough.

My oldest friend in my iconic stack, perhaps read (cover to cover) at least a half dozen times, is Full House: The Spread of Excellence from Plato to Darwin, Stephen Jay Gould. Once more, at the heart of the matter are discussions of various sorts of statistical distributions. I fell in love all over again, dare I admit it, with the importance of standard deviations in a set of observations.

Whoops, I lied. My oldest pal is Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases, by Nobel Laureate (economics) Daniel Kahneman, Paul Slovic, and Amos Tversky. The distortions in our perceptions of events is the subject of this pioneering, seminal, and thoroughly researched work, which arrived in 1982, the same year as In Search of Excellence.

Along those same lines as Kahneman et al., I am taking with me Cordelia Fine’s spanking new A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives. “Your brain has some shifty habits that leave the truth distorted and disguised. Your brain is vainglorious. It’s emotional and immoral. It deludes you. It is pigheaded, secretive, and weak willed. Oh, and it’s also a bigot.” (What’s not to love about that as a starter?)

Along the same vein, my core approach to innovation is to examine the real world, the messy stories about how new stuff really arrives on the scene. Such as:

An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States—Charles Beard (1913)

The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger—Marc Levinson

Tube: The Invention of Television—David & Marshall Fisher

Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, Westinghouse, and the Race to Electrify the World—Jill Jonnes

The Soul of a New Machine—Tracy Kidder

Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA—Brenda Maddox

The Blitzkrieg Myth—John Mosier

Indeed, I can hardly jam this set into a bag that must accommodate the climates of Mauritius, Sweden and California over the course of the next ten days or so. Nonetheless, the spirit of these works will, as always, color my observations beyond measure.