(#Ad) Skin in the Game: The Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life is Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s fifth book.

The basic argument of the book is that if you have no skin in the game, you shouldn’t be in the game. “If you give an opinion, and someone follows it, you are morally obligated to be, yourself, exposed to its consequences.” 

In Skin in the Game Taleb challenges many long-held beliefs about the values of those who spearhead military interventions, make financial investments, and propagate religious faiths.

Taleb discusses what it means for him to understand the world, succeed in a profession, contribute to a fair and just society, detect nonsense, and influence others. Citing examples ranging from Hammurabi to Seneca, Antaeus the Giant to Donald Trump, Nassim Nicholas Taleb shows how the willingness to accept one’s own risks is an essential attribute of heroes, saints, and flourishing people in all walks of life.


“The curse of modernity is that we are increasingly populated by a class of people who are better at explaining than understanding, or better at explaining than doing.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“What matters isn’t what a person has or doesn’t have; it is what he or she is afraid of losing.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Those who talk should do and only those who do should talk.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Courage is the only virtue you cannot fake.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything,” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Bureaucracy is a construction by which a person is conveniently separated from the consequences of his or her actions.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“If you do not take risks for your opinion, you are nothing.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“For studying courage in textbooks doesn’t make you any more courageous than eating cow meat makes you bovine. By some mysterious mental mechanism, people fail to realize that the principal thing you can learn from a professor is how to be a professor—and the chief thing you can learn from, say, a life coach or inspirational speaker is how to become a life coach or inspirational speaker. So remember that the heroes of history were not classicists and library rats, those people who live vicariously in their texts. They were people of deeds and had to be endowed with the spirit of risk taking” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“You do not want to win an argument. You want to win.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Don’t tell me what you think, tell me what you have in your portfolio.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Start by being nice to every person you meet. But if someone tries to exercise power over you, exercise power over him.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Finally, when young people who “want to help mankind” come to me asking, “What should I do? I want to reduce poverty, save the world,” and similar noble aspirations at the macro-level, my suggestion is: 1) Never engage in virtue signaling; 2) Never engage in rent-seeking; 3) You must start a business. Put yourself on the line, start a business.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Beware of the person who gives advice, telling you that a certain action on your part is “good for you” while it is also good for him, while the harm to you doesn’t directly affect him.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Let us return to pathemata mathemata (learning through pain) and consider its reverse: learning through thrills and pleasure. People have two brains, one when there is skin in the game, one when there is none. Skin in the game can make boring things less boring. When you have skin in the game, dull things like checking the safety of the aircraft because you may be forced to be a passenger in it cease to be boring. If you are an investor in a company, doing ultra-boring things like reading the footnotes of a financial statement (where the real information is to be found) becomes, well, almost not boring.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Entrepreneurs are heroes in our society. They fail for the rest of us.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“How much you truly “believe” in something can be manifested only through what you are willing to risk for it.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Scars signal skin in the game.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Alexander said that it was preferable to have an army of sheep led by a lion than an army of lions led by a sheep.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“It is no secret that large corporations prefer people with families; those with downside risk are easier to own, particularly when they are choking under a large mortgage.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“No person in a transaction should have certainty about the outcome while the other one has uncertainty.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“The only definition of rationality that I’ve found that is practically, empirically, and mathematically rigorous is the following: what is rational is that which allows for survival. Unlike modern theories by psychosophasters, it maps to the classical way of thinking. Anything that hinders one’s survival at an individual, collective, tribal, or general level is, to me, irrational.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“People who are bred, selected, and compensated to find complicated solutions do not have an incentive to implement simplified ones.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“If you want to study classical values such as courage or learn about stoicism, don’t necessarily look for classicists. One is never a career academic without a reason. Read the texts themselves: Seneca, Caesar, or Marcus Aurelius, when possible. Or read commentators on the classics who were doers themselves, such as Montaigne—people who at some point had some skin in the game, then retired to write books. Avoid the intermediary, when possible. Or fuhgetaboud the texts, just engage in acts of courage.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“But never engage in detailed overexplanations of why something is important: one debases a principle by endlessly justifying it.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“making some types of errors is the most rational thing to do, when the errors are of little cost, as they lead to discoveries. For instance, most medical “discoveries”are accidental to something else. An error-free world would have no penicillin, no chemotherapy…almost no drugs, and most probably no humans. This is why I have been against the state dictating to us what we “should”be doing: only evolution knows if the “wrong”thing is really wrong, provided there is skin in the game to allow for selection.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“what you learn from the intensity and the focus you had when under the influence of risk stays with you. You may lose the sharpness, but nobody can take away what you’ve learned. This is the principal reason I am now fighting the conventional educational system, made by dweebs for dweebs. Many kids would learn to love mathematics if they had some investment in it, and, more crucially, they would build an instinct to spot its misapplications.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“You will never fully convince someone that he is wrong; only reality can.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Silver Rule (negative golden rule): Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you. Note the difference from the Golden Rule, as the silver one prevents busybodies from attempting to run your life.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“It is much more immoral to claim virtue without fully living with its direct consequences.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“English “manners” were imposed on the middle class as a way of domesticating them, along with instilling in them the fear of breaking rules and violating social norms.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Having an assistant (except for the strictly necessary) removes your soul from the game.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Things designed by people without skin in the game tend to grow in complication (before their final collapse). There is absolutely no benefit for someone in such a position to propose something simple: when you are rewarded for perception, not results, you need to show sophistication. Anyone who has submitted a “scholarly” paper to a journal knows that you usually raise the odds of acceptance by making it more complicated than necessary. Further, there are side effects for problems that grow nonlinearly with such branching-out complications. Worse: Non-skin-in-the-game people don’t get simplicity.” ― Nassim Nicholas Tale

“The principle of intervention, like that of healers, is first do no harm (primum non nocere); even more, we will argue, those who don’t take risks should never be involved in making decisions.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Silver Rule in intellectual debates. You can criticize either what a person said or what a person meant. The former is more sensational, hence lends itself more readily to dissemination. The mark of a charlatan—say the writer and pseudo-rationalist Sam Harris—is to defend his position or attack a critic by focusing on some specific statement (“look at what he said”) rather than blasting his exact position (“look at what he means” or, more broadly, “look at what he stands for”)—for the latter requires an extensive grasp of the proposed idea. Note that the same applies to the interpretation of religious texts, often extracted from their broader circumstances.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Alexander the Magnus was once called to solve the following challenge in the Phrygian city of Gordium (as usual with Greek stories, in modern-day Turkey). When he entered Gordium, he found an old wagon, its yoke tied with a multitude of knots, all so tightly entangled that it was impossible to figure out how they were fastened. An oracle had declared that he who would untie the knot would rule all of what was then called “Asia,” that is, Asia Minor, the Levant, and the Middle East. After wrestling with the knot, the Magnus drew back from the lump of gnarled ropes, then made a proclamation that it didn’t matter for the prophecy how the tangle was to be unraveled. He then drew his sword and, with a single stroke, cut the knot in half. No “successful” academic could ever afford to follow such a policy. And no Intellectual Yet Idiot. It took medicine a long time to realize that when a patient shows up with a headache, it is much better to give him aspirin or recommend a good night’s sleep than do brain surgery, although the latter appears to be more “scientific.” But most “consultants” and others paid by the hour are not there yet.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“we have evidence that collectively society doesn’t advance with organized education, rather the reverse: the level of (formal) education in a country is the result of wealth.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“No, businessmen as risk takers are not subjected to the judgment of other businessmen, only to that of their personal accountant.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Yes, an intolerant minority can control and destroy democracy. Actually, it will eventually destroy our world. So, we need to be more than intolerant with some intolerant minorities. Simply, they violate the Silver Rule. It is not permissible to use “American values” or “Western principles” in treating intolerant Salafism (which denies other peoples’ right to have their own religion). The West is currently in the process of committing suicide.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“If your private life conflicts with your intellectual opinion, it cancels your intellectual ideas, not your private life.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Because what matters in life isn’t how frequently one is “right” about outcomes, but how much one makes when one is right. Being wrong, when it is not costly, doesn’t count—in a way that’s similar to trial-and-error mechanisms of research.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“The ethical is always more robust than the legal. Over time, it is the legal that should converge to the ethical, never the reverse.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Freedom is always associated with risk taking, whether it leads to it or comes from it.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Learning is rooted in repetition and convexity, meaning that the reading of a single text twice is more profitable than reading two different things once.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“The heuristic here would be to use education in reverse: hire, conditional on an equal set of skills, the person with the least label-oriented education. It means that the person had to succeed in spite of the credentialization of his competitors and overcome more serious hurdles. In addition, people who didn’t go to Harvard are easier to deal with in real life.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“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 rigor, statistics without logic, mathematics without proof, teaching without experience, politeness without warmth, values without embodiment, degrees without erudition, militarism without fortitude, progress without civilization, friendship without investment, virtue without risk, probability without ergodicity, wealth without exposure, complication without depth, fluency without content, decision without asymmetry, science without skepticism, religion without tolerance, and, most of all: nothing without skin in the game.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“But things are even worse: in real life, every single bit of risk you take adds up to reduce your life expectancy. If you climb mountains and ride a motorcycle and hang around the mob and fly your own small plane and drink absinthe, and smoke cigarettes, and play parkour on Thursday night, your life expectancy is considerably reduced, although no single action will have a meaningful effect. This idea of repetition makes paranoia about some low-probability events, even that deemed “pathological,” perfectly rational.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“An honest person will never commit criminal acts, but a criminal will readily engage in legal acts.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Give me a few lines written by any man and I will find enough to get him hung” goes the saying attributed to Richelieu, Voltaire, Talleyrand (a vicious censor during the French revolution phase of terror), and a few others.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Someone who has been employed for a while is giving you strong evidence of submission.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“It is when you break a fast that you understand religion” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“The various modes of worship, which prevailed in the Roman world, were all considered by the people, as equally true; by the philosopher, as equally false; and by the magistrate, as equally useful. And thus tolerance produced not only mutual indulgence, but even religious concord.”― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Two people can be using the same word, meaning different things, yet continue the conversation, which is fine for coffee, but not when making decisions, particularly policy decisions affecting others. But is is easy to trip them, as Socrates did, simply by asking them what they think they mean by what they said — hence philosophy was born as rigor in discourse and disentanglement of mixed up notions, in precise opposition to the sophist’s promotion of rhetoric”― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Sticking out for the truth when it is unpopular is far more of a virtue, because it costs you something–your reputation. If you are a journalist and in a way that risks ostracism, you are virtuous. Some people only express their opinions as part of mob shaming, when it is safe to do so, and, in the bargain, think that they are displaying virtue. This is not virtue but vice, a mixture of bullying and cowardice”― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“The only way we have left to control suicide-terrorists would be precisely to convince them that blowing themselves up is not the worst-case scenario for them, nor the end scenario at all. Making their families and loved ones bear a financial burden—just as Germans still pay for war crimes—would immediately add consequences to their actions. The penalty needs to be properly calibrated to be a true disincentive, without imparting any sense of heroism or martyrdom to the families in question.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Virtue is not something you advertise. It is not an investment strategy. It is not a cost-cutting scheme. It is not a bookselling (or, worse, concert-ticket-selling) strategy.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“So you can scam the world for a billion; all you need to do is spend part of it, say, a million or two, to enter the section of paradise reserved for the “givers”. ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Isocrates wrote, “Deal with weaker states as you think it appropriate for stronger states to deal with you.”” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Isocrates managed a rare dynamic version of the Golden Rule: “Conduct yourself toward your parents as you would have your children conduct themselves toward you.” … More effective, of course, is the reverse direction, to treat one’s children the way one wished to be treated by one’s parents.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Yogi Berra said, “I go to other people’s funerals so they come to mine.”” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Avoid taking advice from someone who gives advice for a living, unless there is a penalty for their advice.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Every single person I know who has chronically failed in business shares that mental block, the failure to realize that if something stupid works (and makes money), it cannot be stupid.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“As a Spartan mother tells her departing son: “With it or on it,” meaning either return with your shield or don’t come back alive (the custom was to carry the dead body flat on it); only cowards throw away their shields to run faster.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“There is actually an argument in favor of duels: they prevent conflicts from engaging broader sets of people, that is, wars, by confining the problem to those with direct skin in the game.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“This form of entrepreneurship (selling the company or going public) is the equivalent of bringing great-looking and marketable children into the world with the sole aim of selling them at age four.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“If you can’t put your soul into something, give it up and leave that stuff to someone else.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Whenever the “we” becomes too large a club, things degrade, and each one starts fighting for his own interest.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“A saying by the brothers Geoff and Vince Graham summarizes the ludicrousness of scale-free political universalism.
I am, at the Fed level, libertarian;
At the state level, Republican;
At the local level, Democrat;
And at the family and friends level, a socialist.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“No amount of advertising will match the credibility of a genuine user.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Legend has it that three high-ranking delegations (bishops, rabbis, and sheikhs) cae to make the sales pitch. The Khazar lords asked the Christians: if you were forced to choose between Judaism and Islam, which one would you pick? Judaism, they replied. Then the lords asked the Muslims: which of the two, Christianity or Judaism? Judaism, the Muslims said. Judaism it was; and the tribe converted.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Roman pagans were initially tolerant of Christians, as the tradition was to share gods with other members of the empire. But they wondered why these Nazarenes didn’t want to give and take gods and offer that Jesus fellow to the Roman pantheon in exchange for some other gods. What, our gods aren’t good enough for them? But Christians were intolerant of Roman paganism. The “persecution” of the Christians had vastly more to do with the intolerance of the Christians for the pantheon of local gods than the reverse. What we read is history written by the Christian side, not the Greco-Roman one.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“The dog boasts to the wolf all the contraptions of comfort and luxury he has, almost prompting the wolf to enlist. Until the wolf asks the dog about his collar and is terrified when he understands its use. “Of all your meals, I want nothing.” He ran away and is still running.
The question is: what would you like to be, a dog or a wolf?
The original Aramaic version had a wild ass, instead of a wolf, showing off his freedom. But the wild ass ends up eaten by the lion. Freedom entails risks – real skin the game. Freedom is never free.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Whatever you do, just don’t be a dog claiming to be a wolf.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“It is much easier to do business with the owner of the business than some employee who is likely to lose his job next year; likewise it is easier to trust the word of an autocrat than a fragile elected official.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Jean de La Bruyere wrote that jealousy is to be found within the same art, talent, and condition.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“A good rule for society is to oblige those who start in public office to pledge never subsequently to earn from the private sector more than a set amount; the rest should go to the taxpayer. This will ensure sincerity in, literally, “service” – where employees are supposedly underpaid because of their emotional reward from serving society. It would prove that they are not in the public sector as an investment strategy.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“You can define a free person precisely as someone whose fate is not centrally or directly dependent on peer assessment.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“As an essayist, I am not judged by other writers, book editors, and book reviews, but by readers. Readers? Maybe, but wait a minute… not today’s readers. Only those of tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow. So, my only real judge being time, it is the stability and robustness of the readership (that is, future readers) that counts.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Being reviewed or assessed by others matters if and only if one is subjected to the judgement of future – not just present – others.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Contemporary peers are valuable collaborators, not final judges.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“I learned to avoid honors and prizes partly because, given that they are awarded by the wrong judges, they are likely to hit you at the peak (you’d rather be ignore, or, better, disliked by the general media.)” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Showing off is reasonable; it is human. As long as the substance exceeds the showoff, you are fine.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Consider the chief executive officers of corporations: they don’t just look the part, they even look the same. And, worse, when you listen to them talk, they sound the same, down to the same vocabulary and metaphors. But that’s their job: as I will keep reminding the reader, counter to the common belief, executives are different from entrepreneurs and are supposed to look like actors.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Journalists worry considerably more about the opinion of other journalists than the judgment of their readers. Compare this to a healthy system, say, that of restaurants. Restaurant owners worry about the opinion of their customers, not those of other restaurant owners, which keeps them in check and prevents the business from straying collectively away from its interests. Further, skin in the game creates diversity, not monoculture.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Reading a history book, without putting its events in perspective, offers a similar bias to reading an account of life in New York seen from an emergency room at Bellevue Hospital.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Religions such as Christianity, Judaism, and, to some extent Shiite Islam, evolved (or, rather, let their members evolve in developing a sophisticated society) precisely by moving away from the literal. The literal doesn’t leave any room for adaptation.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Most Christians, when it comes to central medical, ethical, and decision-making situations do not act any differently than atheists.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb

“Rationality resides in what you do, not in what you think or in what you “believe” (skin in the game), and rationality is about survival.” ― Nassim Nicholas Taleb


Nassim Nicholas Taleb (born 1960) is a Lebanese-American essayist, scholar, mathematical statistician, and former option trader and risk analyst, whose work concerns problems of randomness, probability, and uncertainty. His 2007 book The Black Swan has been described by The Sunday Times as one of the twelve most influential books since World War II.

Taleb is the author of the Incerto, a five volume philosophical essay on uncertainty published between 2001 and 2018 (of which the most known books are The Black Swan and (#Ad Antifragile). He has been a professor at several universities, serving as a Distinguished Professor of Risk Engineering at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering since September 2008. He has been co-editor-in-chief of the academic journal Risk and Decision Analysis since September 2014. He has also been a practitioner of mathematical finance, a hedge fund manager, and a derivatives trader.

Buy on Amazon: Skin in the Game: The Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life


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