Posted by: standing_baba | October 5, 2010

I Don’t Know Nothing & Other Punk Rock Entrepreneurial Advice

Cloudy Joaquina Beach

“All I know is that I don’t know nothing.”Operation Ivy, Punk Band

“My major hobby is teasing people who take themselves & the quality of their knowledge too seriously & those who don’t have the courage to sometimes say: I don’t know.” – Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Scholar

(Florianopolis, Brazil) A two-day rain. Non-stop drizzle. Drops patter the rooftop and passing cars make swoosh sounds through puddles. My refusal to check the weather online is a practice in accepting what is. Ignorance meteorology is like forced meditation. Rain is unchangeable; sunshine is not an emotional lover coaxed into action with piercing smiles. I sit indoors, reading and writing, but mostly reading. There’s a certain comfort in knowing there is nothing better to do outside. Work accomplishes itself when there is nowhere else to go. Ideas are easier to huddle around my head when the grass is wet, the playground muddy, the beach cold with dangerous waves.

One thing I’m working on is how to generate income during my travels. Despite an expanding contact list and now grammatically correct Portuguese, translation work has been slow. Teaching English is an unexplored option, as are a number of tourism jobs, but I’m trying to think bigger, dig deeper, innovate instead of tread trodden paths.

I’m not reinventing the wheel though. Bob & Surly have proven it rolls just fine. Instead I’m focusing on success stories, learning the behind-the-scene secrets, and plugging my skills into the same formulas.

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Photo from: blogs.reuters.com)

During my research I came across Lebanese-born Nassim Nicholas Taleb, a scholar whose name is followed by intimidating titles such as aphorist, epistemologist, and anti-Platonist, each hyperlinked to a corresponding academic journal that rewords his already complex theory into a mish mash hodge podge of intellectualism. Lost in this shadow I couldn’t help but feel unread, unworthy, strangely bitter, and a little hungry for oatmeal.

It was during this confrontation with my self-esteem that I found a quote from Mr. Taleb’s best-selling book, The Black Swan. It’s main message is relevant—out of context as it may be—to both my travels and entrepreneurial aspirations:

“We love the tangible, the confirmation, the palpable, the real, the visible, the concrete, the known, the seen, the vivid, the visual, the social, the embedded, the emotional laden, the salient, the stereotypical, the moving, the theatrical, the romanced, the cosmetic, the official, the scholarly-sounding verbiage (b******t), the pompous Gaussian economist, the mathematicized crap, the pomp, the Academie Française, Harvard Business School, the Nobel Prize, dark business suits with white shirts and Ferragamo ties, the moving discourse, and the lurid. Most of all we favor the narrated.”

Gaussian Function

“Alas, we are not manufactured, in our current edition of the human race, to understand abstract matters—we need context. Randomness and uncertainty are abstractions. We respect what has happened, ignoring what could have happened. In other words, we are naturally shallow and superficial—and we do not know it. This is not a psychological problem; it comes from the main property of information.”

In poetic terms: Everything holds mystery; we cannot count the stars. Embrace the fact that you know nothing. Humbly accept that nobody else does either.

In practical terms: All information is incomplete. Just do your best with what’s available.


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