Archive for the ‘Book Review’ Category

Nassim Nicholas Taleb excerpts from Antifragility

April 1, 2017

The avoidance of small errors makes the large ones more sever.

No true stability without volatility.

Focus on actions and avoid words which can lead to a health eroding dependence on external recognition. People are cruel and unfair in the way they confer recognition, so it is best to stay out of the game. Stay robust to how others treat you.

A man is honorable in proportion to the amount of downside he is exposed to for acting on his opinions.

Possession makes us worry about downside, this acting as a punishment as we depend on them. Success brings asymmetry: you now have a lot more to lose than gain. You are hence fragile.

When you have nothing to lose, you are anti-fragile at best, robust at worst.

Nothing can be done hastily and safely – almost nothing.

Anti-fragility is the combination of paranoia and aggressiveness.

Prepare for the worst, the best can take care of itself. Yiddish proverb

Being reviewed or assessed by others matters if and only if one is subjected to judgement by future – not just present – others.

A free person does not to win arguments – just win.

Anything that smacks of a competition is a destruction of knowledge.

The most convincing statements are those in which someone stands, ones in which one has maximal skin in the game; the most unconvincing ones are those in which one patently ( but unknowingly) tries to enhance one’s status without a tangible contribution. Show off if fine, it is human, as long as the substance exceeds the showoff content.

Stay human, take as much as you can, under the condition that you give more than you take.

It is easy to scam people by getting them to complication.

Some things can be, simply, to large for you heart.

Skepticism has traditionally been of expert knowledge rather than abstract entities like God.  Skeptic fideists like the Sufi El Ghazali were part of this tradition.

Avoidance of boredom is the only worthy mode of action.

When it comes to sustaining healthy and ethical activity, the trick is to be bored with a specific task rather than give up the whole project.

‘What is the payoff?’  – negative or positive – is often a better question than ‘what is true ?’ The answer to the former depends on the fragility continuum. Modify your exposure according – adjust your targets. Learn to get out of trouble. Vastly more effective.

Precautionary principle: if we don’t understand something and it has a systemic effect, just avoid.

Ask yourself how many things you need to disregard in order to act.

Just worry about Black Swan exposures, and life is easy. Exploit the positive one and protect against the negative ones.

Robust to error decisions require no more than a single reason.

One small observation can disprove a statement, while millions can hardly confirm it.

What we know to be right today may turn out to be wrong but what we know to be wrong cannot turn out to be right, at least not easily.

It’s not about what to do, but having a way to remove the bad.

Innovation is saying no to 1000 things. Steve Jobs.

It doesn’t matter how often you are wrong, just that you are right when it counts. Suckers try to win arguments, non-suckers try to win. We know we will be wrong most of the time when we check people for weapons at an airport. One side has larger consequences than the other. It is rather a good thing to lose arguments.

Never put your enemy’s back to the wall. Hope your enemies, your circumstances, put your back against the wall. Back against the wall folks tap all their resources, ones they didn’t know they had.










Stooping to Greatness – Reflections on Life and Business

August 7, 2014

The single greatest advantage any company can achieve is organizational health.

This is the first sentence from Chapter One of Patrick Lencioni’s book, The Advantage – Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business. I believe it to be true,  and really think anyone who plays a leadership role anywhere, ought to seriously consider what he writes to begin the book. We all play leadership roles somewhere, even if it is just for ourselves as we run our own lives.

Regarding this single greatest advantage, he continues:

… it is ignored by most leaders even though it is simple, free, and available to anyone who wants to do it…If it sound absurd, it should. After all, why in the world would intelligent human beings ignore something that is so powerful and accessible? 

The question was finally answered for me on July 28, 2010. 

I was attending a client’s leadership conference, sitting next to the CEO. This wasn’t just any company. It was, and still is, one of the healthiest organizations I have ever known and one of the most successful enterprises of the past fifty years. In an industry plagued with financial woes, customer fury, and labor strife, this amazing company has a long history of growth and economic success, not to mention financial customer loyalty. Moreover, its employees love their jobs, their customers, their leaders. When compared to others in the same industry, what this company has achieved is almost baffling. 

As I sat there at the conference listening to one presentation after another highlighting the remarkable and unorthodox activities that made this organization so healthy, I leaned over and quietly asked the CEO a semirhetorical question: ” Why in the world doesn’t your competition do any of this?”

After a few seconds, he whispered, almost sadly, ” You know, I honestly believe they think it’s beneath them.”

And there it was.

I have also seen this at the individual and family level in my work as a psychotherapist. The people who improve under my care and maintain their gains all have one thing in common – they establish their mental health or wellness as their top priority. They stop taking it for granted for the rest of their lives. This may seem like an obvious thing to do for someone who is suffering enough to  take  time and money to see a mental health practitioner, but it is not so easy for the many folks who think they are in therapy just to get back to who they used to be before mental health issues set in. They forget that the same person that seemed so strong because they weren’t  struggling with mental health issues also made the decisions that failed to prevent  their current mental health difficulties.

They idealize how they were before mental health challenges struck, and they just can’t bring themselves  to stoop down from their lofty view of their former self and do the new things it takes to achieve and maintain true wellness.

Even if they get better, and many do because they make a surge of effort for a limited time, they remain at high risk for relapse if they do not keep their mental health priority number one.

Sadly, this can reinforce their idealization of themselves before their first mental health episode, and the pattern continues.


I imagine organizational leaders fall into similar ruts for similar reasons.








The scientific method of investigation – not enough to make sense of life

February 22, 2014

The Ants and the Pen

An ant one day strayed across a piece of paper and saw a pen writing in fine, black strokes.
‘How wonderful this is!’ said the ant. This remarkable thing with a life of its own, makes squiggles on this beautiful surface, to such an extent and with such energy that it is equal to the efforts of all the ants in the world. And the squiggles it makes! These resemble ant: not one, but millions, all run together.”
He repeated his ideas to another ant, who was equally interested. He praised the powers of observation and reflection of the first ant.
But another ant said: “Profiting, it must be admitted, by your efforts, I have observed this strange object. But I have determined that it is not the master of this work. You failed to notice that this pen is attached to certaion other objects, which surround it and drive its way. These should be considered as the moving factor, and given credit.’Thus were fingers discovered by the ants.
But another ant, after a long time, climbed over the fingers and realised they comprised a hand, which he thoroughly explored, after the manner of ants, by scrambling all over it.
He returned to his fellows: ‘Ants,’ he cried, ‘I have news of importance for you. Those smaller objects are part of a large one. It is this which gives motion to them.’
But then it was discovered that the hand was attached to a body, and that there were two hands, and that there were feet that did no writing.
The investigations continue. Of the mechanics of writing, the ants have a fair idea. Of the meaning and intention of the writing, and how it is ultimately controlled, they will not find out by their customary method of investigation. Because they are not ‘literate’.

from Caravan of Dreams by Idries Shah
– this allegory , based on an argument of Rumi’s (Mathnavi IV) was used by the teacher Saad el-Din Jabravi, who died in Damascus in 1335. His tales are still current, and accompanied by the argument that allegory is essential to the human mind to envisage ideas which cannot be captured by any other method.

Go to to find more on this subject including books by Idries Shah

A broken man

February 7, 2013

I came across the book Better to be Broken.  It looks like a great read. It is very inexpensive, only $1.99 on Kindle. The writer,  Rick Huntress,  broke his spine in an accident and is nowconfined to a wheelchair. I read one of his blog posts on his website and was impressed with his insights.

Rick is a Christian, and so am I.  His words got me thinking about the emphasis of my religion on sin and forgiveness. I don’t always feel like a sinner, any more than I feel like a saint,  and it can seem phony and even self-absorbed to keep asking for forgiveness. I know I sin in lots of little ways but how good an approach is it to being a better person to constantly confess sins to acquire forgiveness. It seems to be too focused on me getting something for myself for my effort. Selfish.

Instead of sinner, I like the word broken, and seeing myself as broken. Maybe it just makes it more concrete for me than the word sinner, yet it means the same thing. Seeing myself as broken I have certainty in the knowledge that I am just not completely together and on target ever, and I should not expect to be, nor should I expect others to be. It takes pressure off, and reminds me to slow down and lean into God.  And being broken, I don’t know exactly how to do that, but that’s ok. That’s the point, actually.

Broken, I remind myself in prayer and confession,  but keeping it moving, focusing on what’s important, getting done what ought to be done.

Lent ’round here

March 17, 2012

For lent, my wife gave up alcohol. I am giving it up too, and coffee. I get my caffeine from tea though.

My daughter gave up looking in mirror. She found that idea on a website.

I have been reading these books during lent.

What Jesus Meant  by Garry Wills

Simple Christianity by N. T. Wright

I actually am rereading these first two.

Kingdom Man by Tony Evans.

I recommend them all.

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer

February 25, 2012

This is the first book I read on the Kindle Fire I got for Christmas. I have read a number of books in the genre where writers try to distill recent psychological research for the layperson. This is the best one I have read, perhaps because of the unifying theme – making decisions. Not something we can really avoid, we often are aware of it like we are aware of our breathing. I tend to only be aware of my breathing when I am working to breathe, and I tend to only be aware I am making decisions when they are hard. But the book demonstrates that we often make it harder on ourselves then we need to because we fail to pay attention to the task of matching how we decide with what we are deciding. For example, and this will sound likely counterintuitive to many, simple decisions are best made with the intellect or reason and complex decision are better made with the gut or emotion.

As a therapist, I was able to make use of what I learned in the book to help some of my clients immediately. Fit of approach is so important to success in therapy, and the fit of how you are thinking to what you are thinking about also correlates highly with success. One size fits all, like ‘positive thinking’ approaches, can really be a poison in so many situations.

As we go into this political season, and watch how people with different viewpoints seem to be excellent at dodging facts that put their candidates in a negative light, I am reminded of this line from Lehrer – Self-delusion apparently feels really good.  Parts of the brain that cause us to feel pleasure become VERY active when we delude ourselves. Lehrer advises us to be in contant dialog with our feelings and you will understand how this can help you. Having a conversation with yourself about how you feel  while you ‘get off’ on your self-delusion tends to burst your bubble and help you avoid errors.  

 I took notes on this book and I will continue to study it. It is a fun read too. I learned about it from Todd Camp in a Linkedin discussion about negotiation.

Enhance Safety When Disciplining

January 21, 2012

From Attachment-Focused Parenting by Daniel A. Hughes. Highly recommended:

“Discipline often consists of two features:  an increase in safety and an increase in anxiety. Safety is enhanced through a child’s knowledge that the parent is actively involved in a situation and has the knowledge and experience to manage it. Anxiety is increased when the parent’s decision is at odd with the child’s wishes and thus may create frustration and conflict. Such conflicts may generate uncertainty about the meaning of the parent-child relationship, especially when the child is unclear about the parent’s motives. To enhance personal safety, the parent is wise to value the probable value of the following:

>The parent should convey her decision regarding discipline with an open and confident stance, with clarity and information regarding her motives and the desired consequences. The intent of her communication is not to elicit agreement but rather to give the child the information that he needs to make sense of her decision. A focus on gaining the child’s agreement may well communicate a fear of differences and conflicts and generate more confusion and less clarity for the child.

>The parent should be open to her child’s perspective, so that he knows that she has confidence in her choice regarding what is best, while still knowing her child’s wishes.

>The parent is wise to convey her decision with empathy for the frustration likely to occur due to the conflict between what the child wants and her decision. This will enable the child to experience understanding and comfort over his distress regarding the discipline, and to accept her decision more easily. “

Me and My Feelings – What Emotions are and How We Can Manage Them

January 8, 2012

Written by Robert Guarino and illustrated by Jeff Jackson. It is part of a series for teenagers written to help them understand themselves and how they , as human beings , work. It is often a neglected subject in school.

I read this book as a 44 year old man who earns his living a therapist and though much of it was familiar I did learn some things. It is well researched yet very readable. Reading it, I found myself being better able to process some of my feelings in daily life. I have most of the knowledge in the book, yet the format must have helped me retain the info in a way that it was mor accessible to me, even in moments of upset. Our brains are like powerful and complex computers that are useless without giving the user easy access and application.

I am going to ask my older children to read the book , 13 year old Xavier and 15 year old Gabrielle. I will ask them to share their thoughts and update this review . They have some discussion suggestions at the end of the book that might be fun to do with them. I don’t even have to tell them I am getting the ideas from the book which would surely raise their hackles.

I am going to read another book from the same series called What’s the Catch – How to avoid getting hooked and manipulated.  I’ll do a review of that too.

You can find this book at

Indoctrinate U

November 11, 2011

For people who value free speech and diversity of thought


Commonsense thinking, artificial intelligence, and the future of the human mind

August 5, 2011

I am reading a book by Marvin Minsky called The Emotion Machine.

I feel it applies to my work as a therapist and recommend it to anyone interested in the mind and its workings.

Machine is a bit of a misnomer as it tends to imply power and efficiency rather than flexibility and flow. I like this quote from the introduction:

If you “understand” something in only one way, then you scarcely understand it at all- because when you get stuck, you’ll have nowhere to go. But if you represent something in several ways, then when you get frustrated enough, you can switch among different points of view, until you find one that works for you!

He goes on about human dignity:

I see our dignity as stemming from what we have made of ourselves: a colossal collection of different ways to deal with different situations and predicaments. It is that diversity that distinguishes us from most of the other animals – and from all the machines we’ve built in the past…

Visit Marvin Minsky at  

Dignity in diversity that we each build together… that effort and the opportunity to make it is something to be grateful for and a real source of hope.

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