Friday, February 13, 2009

Black Swan Tipping Over

twin trees reaching for the sky
It is fascinating to see how ideas germinate, take shape and blossom. But what is even more fascinating is how authors use each others ideas as stepping stones to push their own.

What follows is entirely speculation. I am not insinuating plagiarism here.

Malcolm Gladwell brought out his international best seller The Tipping Point in the year 2000. The book is about how trends reach a critical mass and tip over to become an avalanche. Simple example from the book, some young kids start wearing Hush Puppies and suddenly the near-dead brand is a rage.

Fooled By Randomness by Nassim Nicholas Taleb (NNT) is published in 2001. He follows it up with The Black Swan in 2007. The idea of black swan is introduced in Fooled By Randomness and formalised in The Black Swan. NNT rejects Normal Curve as the basis for describing all random activities. He claims and proves that Normal Curve can be used for describing events that are associated with tossing of coins and other similar random phenomena, such as, weight of randomly picked sample of human beings. Power law rules the social and financial world. Thus, events that tip over are basically black swans. NNT also makes the statistical concept, outlier, popular ... but only among those who have read the book.

In 2008, Malcolm Gladwell publishes a book called, guess what, Outliers.

It is as if the two authors draw energy from each other to expand their thesis. Unless they are the same author writing under pseudonyms, in one avatar the author establishes a formal basis of an idea and in another avatar he comes up with a popular version of the idea. (Yes! I have seen their photographs, they look different :-))

If I remember it correctly, NNT makes a one line mention of The Tipping Point in The Black Swan.

The approach and styles vary widely but they both talk of the same thing.

Picture courtesy: Nicole Shackelford

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1 comment:

Venky said...

Beautiful observation..Having read all the books, I am beginning to see the connections..However, I am more inclined towards Naslim Nicholas Taleb. I somehow feel Gladwell's writing become too popular to lose its uniqueness..gr8 blog amitabh..will check it often..

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