How To Avoid Being Killed By a Black Swan

Black Swan is a term and theory coined by Nassim Taleb that describes an unpredictable event whose effect is greatly disproportionate to its cause. Taleb outlines three criteria for such events: The event is a surprise (to the observer), the event has a major impact, and after the fact, the event is rationalized by hindsight, as if it had been expected. Some examples are the personal computer, World War I, and the September 11 attacks.

Generally, the term Black Swan is used in reference to global, history-changing events. But as Doug McGruff, an emergency physician in South Carolina, notes, they can be personal too. Dr. McGruff outlines twelve tips on avoiding what he calls ‘negative Black Swan events’—occurrences that we consider unlikely that lead to an early demise:

1. Drive the biggest vehicle you can afford to drive.
2. Never get on a 4-wheeler ATV [quad bike].
3. Do not road cycle or jog on public roads/roadsides.
4. Do not fly a plane or helicopter unless you are a full-time professional pilot.
5. If you are walking down a sidewalk and are approaching a group of loud and apparently intoxicated males, cross to the other side of the street immediately. If confronted, run.
6. If your gas grill won’t start . . . walk away.
7. Never dive into a pool or body of water (except in a pool diving area marked 9 feet or deeper after you have checked it out feet-first).
8. Never get on a ladder to clean your gutters, or on your roof to hang Christmas lights. Do not cut down trees with a chainsaw.
9. If you are retirement age and plan on moving to a new home . . . think twice.
10. If anyone tries to force you into your car or car trunk at gun point, don’t cooperate.
11. If you are in any personal or professional relationship that exhausts you or otherwise causes you recurrent distress, then end the relationship immediately.
12. Don’t play the lottery . . . you might win.

Read the rest to hear his explanations. I’ll be cutting the article out and giving it to my wife to justify my decision to never clean gutters again.

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  • James Marroquin

    I think Karl Popper actually first coined the term.

  • Buzz G.

    Or better yet, as an alternative to #1: Don’t drive at all. Live in a car-free community (like Venice!) It’s safer, healthier, and cleaner, and besides, cars always struck me as unnatural. God gave us perfectly good feet, we weren’t made to need wheels to get to wherever we want to go.


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