Nassim Nicholas Taleb, your grandmother’s advice and Tikanga Māori


Lebanese–American writer Nassim Nicholas Taleb is one of my heroes.

I won’t go into the details of why here but if you’ve read any of his books we can be friends.

I’ve been thinking about Taleb and my experience of the meaning of tikanga – the right way of doing things.

Taleb doesn’t write about tikanga, but he does write about grandmothers.

Here’s a quote from his latest book which I read recently:

Your grandmother vs. academic researcher: who should you trust?

If you hear advice from a grandmother or elders, odds are that it works 90 per cent of the time. On the other hand, in part because of scientism and academic prostitution, in part because the world is hard, if you read anything by psychologists and behavioral scientists, odds are that it works at less than 10 percent, unless it is has also been covered by the grandmother and the classics, in which case why would you need a psychologist?

This makes perfect sense to my Pākehā worldview as a way of understanding tikanga.

Something doesn’t have to be backed up by scientific research to work. Also, if something does work I don’t necessarily need to know why.

Taleb has a filter that he uses when thinking about the world called The Lindy Effect.

To paraphrase, The Lindy Effect states that if something (a behaviour, object, job, tikanga) has been around for a long time, then chances are it will continue to endure for at least an equal amount of time.

In other words, things that have stood the test of time, have done so for good reasons (such as that they work) even if we’re not sure on why.

Check out the book. You’ll love him or hate him.

He’s fine with either.

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

2 thoughts

  1. Hi Graeme,enjoyed your piece.

    As a rebel academic I can vouch for the assertion that academic prostitution is thriving with the ubiquitous but fallow pursuit of substituting numbers for meaning and social science for philosophical enquiry.Tikanga or any form of culture can never be solely valued as matter of the quantification of the benefits it provides. KPI’s for kooks!

    The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice … To endure uncertainty is difficult, but so are most of the other virtues. – Bertrand Russell

    Good to see steaming ahead with your publications.



    1. Hi Gary…! Thanks for that. Pleased to provide some light Friday night intellectual musings. Loved your comments and the quote. I can’t speak to the quality of my books, but I feel I’ve cracked the Kindle code as far as the tools go. Sales is another matter altogether. Perhaps we need to collaborate on a short book on how to be a rebel academic. I’m sure it’s a slippery slope that we could push a few others down.

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