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Skin in the Game

Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life
Written by: Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Narrated by: Joe Ochman
Series: Incerto
Length: 8 hrs and 20 mins
4.3 out of 5 stars (191 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Number-one New York Times best seller

A bold work from the author of The Black Swan that challenges many of our long-held beliefs about risk and reward, politics and religion, finance and personal responsibility.

In his most provocative and practical book yet, one of the foremost thinkers of our time redefines what it means 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. 

As always both accessible and iconoclastic, Taleb challenges long-held beliefs about the values of those who spearhead military interventions, make financial investments, and propagate religious faiths. Among his insights: 

  • For social justice, focus on symmetry and risk sharing. You cannot make profits and transfer the risks to others, as bankers and large corporations do. You cannot get rich without owning your own risk and paying for your own losses. Forcing skin in the game corrects this asymmetry better than thousands of laws and regulations. 
  • Ethical rules aren't universal. You're part of a group larger than you, but it's still smaller than humanity in general. 
  • Minorities, not majorities, run the world. The world is not run by consensus but by stubborn minorities asymmetrically imposing their tastes and ethics on others. 
  • You can be an intellectual yet still be an idiot. "Educated philistines" have been wrong on everything from Stalinism to Iraq to low carb diets. 
  • Beware of complicated solutions (that someone was paid to find). A simple barbell can build muscle better than expensive new machines. 
  • True religion is commitment, not just faith. How much you believe in something is manifested only by what you’re willing to risk for it.

The phrase "skin in the game" is one we have often heard but have rarely stopped to truly dissect. It is the backbone of risk management, but it's also an astonishingly rich worldview that, as Taleb shows in this book, applies to all aspects of our lives. As Taleb says, "The symmetry of skin in the game is a simple rule that's necessary for fairness and justice and the ultimate BS-buster," and "Never trust anyone who doesn't have skin in the game. Without it, fools and crooks will benefit, and their mistakes will never come back to haunt them." 

©2018 Nassim Nicholas Taleb (P)2018 Random House Audio

What listeners say about Skin in the Game

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  • Overall
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    4 out of 5 stars

Decent but scattershot

There are a lot of decent points but the guy seems to have no editor. He is still talking about what he's going to talk about in the book almost halfway through the book. I thought for a second I bought an ad for the book by accident instead of the actual book.

4 people found this helpful

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An interesting rant

While presenting some ideas convincingly, this essay sounds like a long rant or stream-of-consciousness writing that, infuriatingly, lacks rigour in both its central claims, as well as around the edges. If, according to the author, the only thing we can learn from, say, professors, is how to be one - does it not also follow that we've only learned how to write like the author? Broad claims are easy targets; I've only picked one at random.

12 people found this helpful

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Tragically Flawed

As an unqualified fan of NNT's work (especially Black Swan and Antifragile), this topic is absolute dynamite for me. And it should be for folks at every level. NNT of course with his intellect, his well-read past and penchant for provocative and thought provoking ideas is pretty much the ideal person to have written this book. I have waited a long time to write this review, as I expected this to be better than Antifragile (which remains pretty much one of my favorite books, a blockbuster in idea and presentation). Skin in the Game then, should have been his Magnum Opus. And it’s a disaster. The book starts off well - the first quarter in its intro and concept is succinct (with his natural sharpness and very informative anecdotes of his very well read past). Then his penchant for digression and rants takes over and digresses into unrelated contexts about religious and ethno-centric basis for this topic which is uncontrolled, verbose and totally not on point. It kills the book, and it kills what is a fantastic topic, that would have been a book for the generations. Instead it’s just another average book. As the remaining three quarters of the book is frustrating. Instead of bringing in a small minded dullard like Thomas Piketty as a counterpoint, why did he not stick with great economic thinkers who could have easily supported his idea (like von Mises or Hazlitt)? Worse of all, he does a great dis-service by only a minor reference to heuristics, and the work of Gigerenzer which could have been a fantastic dovetail into this topic. It is tragic that an idea as important, as interesting and thought provking as this - has been done such a dis-service. There are several isolated passages in this book, when he stops being digressive – and his natural talent shines through very quickly and you see glimpses of what was possible. The final passages on ergodicity have relevance, and would have been a fitting end. But by this time the book is frustrating mish-mash of annoying filler which is sometimes insulting to the reader. The book gets 2-stars for the topic alone, you should be familiar this idea. It is that thought provoking. And zero stars for the book itself. What a waste.

2 people found this helpful

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important book

lessons for life, dense, worth every word, not what you want to hear yet what you should hear

1 person found this helpful

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A great independent thinker!

Nassim's books are always a breath of fresh perspective! Well written, interesting, always a tad controversial and adversarial!

1 person found this helpful

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Bloated

I guess you have to make a book but the length was padded with a lot of insults to his peers.

2 people found this helpful

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So. Much. Ego

I can't believe how self involved this author is. some good concepts and ideas, but honestly I have no trust in him as an individual for anything he says to be valid or true. Spends most of the book going off on vendettas against intellectuals and entire fields of study. Curiosity of how ridiculous this book could get it the sole reason I finished it.

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Only take advice from people with skin in the game

Nassim Taleb is the creator of the black swan theory, which was a very influential way of thinking about trading and investing - markets are no efficient, and they don't price in black swans - events that are unforeseen. This book was enjoyable, it felt like it was directed at politicians, journalists, clout chasing economists & academics who criticize without having any financial stake on the outcome of their pontification or criticism. Do not take advice from people who have no skin in the game. Having skin in the game is the real test of getting to know someone's motivations. This book was filled with historical examples of skin in the game, but it was also filled with a palpable vitriol and disdain for those without skin in the game. Taleb is very opinionated and sometimes it can come across as rude, so I can imagine a lot of people without skin in the game getting turned off by this book. I preferred Black Swan, but I'm glad I went through this one. Some takeaways that will stick with me for a long time: Minority Rule / Intolerant Minority ... sometimes the small minority will dictate the way things are as long as they are not infringing on the majority. The example of kosher / halal eaters make sense. Not all followers of kosher / halal diets can eat all food, but nearly everyone can eat kosher / halal food. The minority can get their way, for a long time, even if their way doesn't make any sense, as long as it does not inconvenience the majority. Once the majority have enough skin in the game to form an opinion, then look out, no more peanuts on flights! This book pre-dated cancel culture, but it describes the thought process of the cancel culture that emerged online from the intolerant minority of social justice keyboard warriors. Canceling fringe influencers is ok, as long as they don't cancel someone that the majority cares about - that's why they can cancel Alex Jones but they can't cancel Joe Rogan. Worth a read if you are interested in investing, politics or journalism

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Eye opening

If you are looking for something outside the usual way of thinking the Incerto serie is for you. Help you focus on what you don't know rather than what you know or what some "experts" are saying. It highlights some human biases.

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Ambivalent

I first listened to the Black Swan by this author, and then this book. It's difficult to parse out exactly how I feel. There are a lot of good nuggets of wisdom here, although most of them were conclusions I had already drawn myself through experience in the world. If you are very naive, these may be enlightening ideas, otherwise you've probably already realized them yourself through experience. However, at the end of the day, I'm not sure if I agree with the overall outlook of the author. He seems to be trying to justify a life where one takes absolutely no risks. His rambles on trying to justify why adhering to ancient superstitions makes sense. This seems to be an attempt to make a rational case for adhering to strange religious codes, which may have made sense at different points in time but do not in this day and age. He claims that if you can avoid exposing yourself to risk, then basically any silly thing you do to avoid risk is justified (and by silly, I mean things like avoiding living on the 13th floor of a building). While this may allow one to "survive" longer, I can't help but wonder - what's the value of living longer if your quality of life is degraded because you refuse to do anything interesting or exciting? So, if you're on a quest to live to 100 years but never do anything worth talking about in your life, then follow the advice laid out in this book. If, however, you are more interested in adventure and risk, well, I'm not sure if there's much value to be derived from this author.

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  • Jeremy
  • 2018-03-11

Brilliance smothered by Condescension and Petty Squabbling

I’ve enjoyed and applies Taleb’s insights for years, but this book was so infused with petty arguments and dismissive quips that it was difficult to pull anything useful from it. The author uncharacteristically wandered off topic so often that trying to reconstruct his arguments almost took more effort than the insight seemed worth. I think there were some pretty significant insights (“don’t confuse data for mathematical rigor” for example). But the book as a whole was so condescending and vitriolic to anyone who disagreed with the author about his past ideas, which is strange coming from someone who preaches such a stoic view of things. I think the author had some very important ideas, but it will take serious work to find them if you aren’t interested in taking the author’s side in all the flame wars he’s either started or been dragged into.

122 people found this helpful

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  • Jeremy Teeter
  • 2018-03-03

The expansion pack to Antifragile

If you've never read Taleb before, pass on this book for now and go read Fooled by Randomness or The Black Swan. This book, while fascinating to long time Taleb fans, is more preaching to the choir, and so he skips a lot of he lead up and background discussions that had been part of the backbone of his other books. I valued the discussion of minority rule and the concept of an absorbing barrier applied to financial ruin, and the authors use of unreliable narratives was entertaining as always. That said, the ideas in this book are minor points compared to his other works, and I found myself wishing he had waited another year or two to continue fleshing out the ideas in this book to allow it to be up to the same standards of his other works.

107 people found this helpful

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  • Hessa Al-thani
  • 2018-06-22

Better off read than heard

There's a lot in here that should be read over and mulled over to fully appreciate the author's message. I stopped half way because I'd much rather read it and carefully consider the author's conjectures rather than taking them for granted. I gave the performance a 2 because there were times when the reader added his own tone to the text.

8 people found this helpful

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  • Larry C
  • 2018-03-14

Didn’t care for this one.

I loved the other three books but this one seemed to be mainly an opportunity to vent for the author. Way too much belittling of others and more “I”s than I think I have ever read in a book that was not an autobiography.

33 people found this helpful

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  • Alex
  • 2018-05-17

some interesting stuff in here

for example, defining rationality in terms of behaviors not beliefs. And businesses that are succesfull are by definition not stupid.

5 people found this helpful

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  • Scott H
  • 2018-03-02

Taleb's snobbery and condescension @ all time high

For someone who rails against critics breaking his principle of charity in not using straw man arguments against his main points, he sure does it himself an awful lot. For example, he uses Richard Thaler's self deprecating story about enjoying a tie his wife bought him when he wouldn't have bought it himself as proof of what an idiot Thaler is. Thaler feels this mental accounting is irrational and Taleb does not. I'm inclined to lean toward what I take to be Taleb's argument that the term 'irrational' is overplayed and does not really describe what is happening in a lot of the behavioral economics studies but to just dismiss the whole field as bunk goes much too far. That is where his ideas about heuristics that he uses to criticize Richard Dawkins come from after all. I bet Dawkins would even concede the point that an outfielder is using heuristics rather than subconsciously doing differential equations to anticipate where to go as he originally wrote decades ago. Taleb makes some good points but he always overplays his hand and portrays himself and a very small handful of his heroes who 'have skin in the game' as the only people in the world who have contributed anything worthwhile. Some of the things I liked: -His points about vocal minorites having large impact on public policy or commerce e.g., kosher foods, non-gmo foods, smoking in restaurants. -Don't tell me what you think, tell me what's in your portfolio. All that really matters is our actions- not our opinions. I would give this another star but I'm so turned off by his self aggrandizement and unwarranted dismissal of every scientist, school teacher, public servant, and 9-5 employee that I can't do it.

102 people found this helpful

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  • Ramiro Torres
  • 2018-05-05

Great Summation of lost Accountability.

succinct discourse on the hidden art of accountability linking inter-relational action/inaction in our Societal stagnation/progress

4 people found this helpful

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  • Nicholas E. Ertz
  • 2018-04-21

Asymmetries be damned.

Taleb will make you think. He may also make you yell at the window and kick the dog. He brooks no half-hearted response. In this epistle, we hear him remind us to trust no one who gives advice and has no "skin in the game". What is their risk? This is part of the series that includes Black Swan. Read it. (My skin is that you will think me a fool if I'm wrong.)

4 people found this helpful

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  • SelfishWizard
  • 2018-03-18

All the Arrogance, Anger and Bile you can Eat!

Taleb interrupts the flow of his work (such as it is) to rant throughout against Michelin starred restaurants, "idiot intellectuals", suit and tie executives, journalists, scientists, academics, genetically modified food (go figure) and in fact pretty much all food other than pizza (made with fresh ingredients) and hamburgers.

He prefers weightlifters to professors and almost anything to Stephen Pinker. He dislikes any and all who aren't what he considers to be traders and risk takers. Gym equipment other than bar bells and sommeliers come in for his especial ire. But he likes brutish looking inarticulate doctors. The non brutish amongst us he considers to be effete and impudent snobs offering comments on matters on which they have no skin in the game. It is hard to see what "skin" Taleb actually has in this irritable list of things he doesn't like.

The book feels like it was dashed off after too many beers on the way to a barroom brawl.
But Taleb obviously delights in his angry skewering of the rest of the world. Somehow he sells this stuff "to the Swiss" (his trading term for the average faceless sucker), so more power to him for developing a business plan and finding a paying audience for his bile.

42 people found this helpful

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  • N.F.
  • 2018-03-08

Parting ways with Taleb

I enjoyed previous works by Taleb like Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan. However, I couldn't stand this one. It is so full of derision against anyone who is not exactly like him, so full of his many personal vendettas that is incoherent.
He skips from subject to subject with little logic, and covers subject rather superficially. He arrogantly dismisses scientists, doctors, economists and then goes on to peddle what are basically conspiracy theories. Then he goes on to raise on a pedestal "ancient wisdom". I almost had the feeling that he would advocate spitting at black cat like my grandmother because it is wisdom that survived, unlike taking statins which is new science.
In conclusion, if I met Taleb, I would suggest he took a nice long look at the mirror. He might recognise one of his "Intellectual Yet Idiot"s there.

49 people found this helpful