Booklist – Entry 3: The Drunkard’s Walk

This is the second book in a row that I’ve really enjoyed so it might be easy to say I was on a roll picking winners. Yet, to do so would negate all I’d learned from “The Drunkard’s Walk” which is a fantastic journey into “how randomness rules our lives”!

First, let me start with the ending which directly addresses the question that always springs to mind when people explain how randomness underlies most everything, even supposed patterns or successes. I’ll just mention that Leonard Mlondinow concludes his book by confronting this concept in a heartfelt manner and I can only encourage you all not to lose hope by the rest of my post.

The term “Brownian Motion” is a more polite term for the drunkard’s walk, but I’m sure many of us are familiar with the concept that we often get to where we were going without always intentionally steering ourselves there directly.

Before I started my book list entries I read “The Black Swan” based on a friend’s recommendation. It’s a good book too but I felt like it left me with more questions (although with more respect and caution, and my second book gave me a sense of how our underlying psychology can “randomly” (or not so randomly) influence our lives.

This book really seemed to pull a lot of those same concepts into both a historical and tangible set of examples.

The author, Leonard Mlodinow, brings to our attention the risks of confirmation bias” and how often it influences our expectation of whether something is or isn’t random.

About the only point where I “disagreed” (i.e. where I wanted to have a more in depth conversation) was when he mentions that firing high level managers shows a 50% rate of improvement.

His point is that this shows that managers don’t always have any influence whatsoever but I wonder if it simply means that only roughly 50% of all managers are good.

In short I think Leonard falls prey to something he often guards against if you use statistics to generalize (as he did here) then you miss out that often results can go “counter” to the trend for the individual, i.e. instead of “breaking even” you could see a 100% improvement in you rcompoany (probably at the expense of another which ends up @ -100%).

However, given that I’m not a mathematician I’m sure I’m falling prey to the influences that we all suffer from, understanding how randomness predominates our existence. Clearly I could use some more reading on this subject but this book is a great start in that direction!

About jay

I'm trying to build something interactive where I can learn from others and hopefully share useful knowledge too. thecapacity@gmail.com
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