More on randomness – and the case for plain English

These are more thoughts from Taleb on how to avoid being fooled by randomness – this time in the use of language. Consider these two passages:

The main theme of the works of Rushdie is not theory, as the dialectic paradigm of reality suggests, but pretheory. The premise of the neosemanticist paradigm of discourse implies that sexual identity, ironically, has significance.


Sound is the change in the specific condition of segregation of the material parts, and in the negation of this condition; merely an abstract or an ideal ideality, as it were, of that specification. But this change, accordingly, is itself immediately the negation of the material specific subsistence; which is, therefore, real ideality of specific gravity and cohesion, i.e. – heat.

One of these is a random product of a Monte Carlo generator and other is a passage from the famous 19th Century philosopher Hegel. You may have already figured out that the second passage must be Hegel’s because there is no way he could have read the works of Rushdie back in the 19th Century – but working it out from the content would be harder.

As Taleb points out you could construct a similar passage of random pseudo business speak by feeding the Monte Carlo generator with phrases such as “our assets are our people”, “creation of shareholder value”, “our work ethics” etc. etc.

The same is also true of many currently popular business plan concepts including “platform”, “social media”, “viral marketing”, “market place”, “synergy”, “value-added partner” and many, many others.

So if you find yourself writing a business plan or pitching your company in a way that sounds like it could come out of a random word generator beware!!

The way to avoid this, of course, is to use plain English.