Skin In The Game – Nassim Taleb

I like to think of Nassim Taleb as a modern philosopher. “Modern” is somewhat misleading though, because Taleb vehemently opposes modernity, intellectualism, scientism and academia. Taleb likes practitioners and is opposed to anyone without skin in the game. Skin in the Game is essentially real investment, where one’s actions and opinions have consequence. Taleb’s latest book is centred on this concept with numerous interpretations and digressions. Once you’re accustomed to his verbose style, each of digression can be gripping.


In a world where opinions are a dime a dozen, Taleb’s intersection of ancient philosophy and practical examples is a breath of fresh air. He’s a welcome change from political correctness. Don’t get me wrong, respect is critical, but is there a cost at some point? Tolerance is a virtue that I aspire to but at what cost? Should we be tolerant of a political party that campaigns for intolerance? What if that political party gained power and persecuted you for you liberal thoughts – would that have justified intolerance to begin with? I don’t have the perfect answer to these questions but it’s a great thought experiment. At what point would you become intolerant?

His aggressive and arrogant style can rub people up the wrong way but this doesn’t perturb me. Many of his criticisms cut directly to my core and cause me to rethink decisions I’ve made in the past. What are the consequences of being a salaried employee? Am I taking enough risks? Do my opinions have consequence? What is in my portfolio? These are tough and sometimes stomach curdling questions, but that is the whole point. Growth requires criticism, thinking, self-reflection, action and progress. This also doesn’t imply that every criticism is accurate. Circumstances will be different for each of us but it’s really important to ask ourselves searching questions in order to make sure we’re really living a life that we can be proud of. In Taleb’s words, “the definition of success is living an honourable life.”

I appreciate the way that Taleb thinks. His conclusions need to be assessed critically and not just taken at face value, but I’m receptive to the clash against the mainstream narrative. People are far too willing to lap up mainstream ideas because they’re afraid of sticking their necks out and being “called-out” by the latest social vigilante on twitter. Cowering down like this isn’t a good principle for intellectual growth that society desperately needs. We need people who will jolt us out of our comfort zone and challenge the status quo – Taleb serves this purpose.

By virtue of the fact that he is so opinionated, Taleb is guaranteed to be wrong from time to time. But he’s true to his beliefs and he’s open to criticism. He’s a true risk-taker who bears the consequences of both his actions and opinions. I respect this and I think he’s right – life is better with skin in the game.

Taleb’s concluding remarks:

No muscles without strength,

Friendship without trust,

Opinion without consequence,

Change without aesthetics,

Age without values,

Life without effort,

Water without thirst,

Food without nourishment,

Love without sacrifice,

Power without fairness,

Facts without rigour,

Statistics without logic,

Mathematics without proof,

Teaching without experience,

Politeness without warmth,

Values without embodiment,

Degrees without erudition,

Militarism without fortitude,

Progress without civilisation,

Friendship without investment,

Virtue without risk,

Probability without ergodicity,

Wealth without exposure,

Complication without depth,

Fluency without content,

Decisions without asymmetry,

Science without scepticism,

Religion without tolerance,

Nothing without skin in the game.

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