Excerpt from Malcolm Gladwell's 2002 essay on Nicholas Taleb (pictured at right), Blowing Up, and reprinted as part of his latest book What the Dog Saw:
"We cannot blow up, we can only bleed to death," Taleb says, and bleeding to death, absorbing the pain of steady losses, is precisely what human beings are hardwired to avoid. "Say you've got a guy who is long on Russian bonds," Savery says. "He's making money every day. One day, lightning strikes and he loses five times what he made. Still, on three hundred and sixty-four out of three hundred and sixty-five days he was very happily making money. It's much harder to be the other guy, the guy losing money three hundred and sixty-four days out of three hundred and sixty-five, because you start questioning yourself. Am I ever going to make it back? Am I really right? What if it takes ten years? Will I even be sane ten years from now?" What the normal trader gets from his daily winnings is feedback, the pleasing illusion of progress. At Empirica, there is no feedback. "It's like you're playing the piano for ten years and you still can't play chopsticks," Spitznagel say, "and the only thing you have to keep you going is the belief that one day you'll wake up and play like Rachmaninoff." Was it easy knowing that Niederhoffer -- who represented everything they thought was wrong -- was out there getting rich while they were bleeding away? Of course it wasn't . If you watched Taleb closely that day, you could see the little ways in which the steady drip of losses takes a toll. He glanced a bit too much at the Bloomberg. He leaned forward a bit too often to see the daily loss count. He succumbs to an array of superstitious tics. If the going is good, he parks in the same space every day; he turned against Mahler because he associates Mahler with the last year's long dry spell. "Nassim says all the time that he needs me there, and I believe him," Spitznagel says. He is there to remind Taleb that there is a point to waiting, to help Taleb resist the very human impulse to abandon everything and stanch the pain of losing. "Mark is my cop," Taleb says. So is Pallop: he is there to remind Taleb that Empirica has the intellectual edge.