One of the primary qualities of good creative thinking is an intellectual freedom to think outside of the box. Good creative thinkers resist orthodox ideas, take new lines of enquiry, and generally come at problems from the kinds of angles almost no one else could. And, what is more, when the ideas of creative thinkers are convincing, they can reshape an entire topic, and change the orthodoxy for good.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb's 2007 bestseller The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable is precisely such a book: an entertaining, polemical, creative attack on how people in general, and economic experts in particular view the possibility of catastrophic events. Taleb writes with rare creative verve for someone who is also an expert in mathematics, finance, and epistemology (the philosophy of knowledge), and he martials all his skills to turn standard reasoning inside out. His central point is that far from being unimportant, extremely rare events are frequently the most important ones of all: it is highly improbable, but highly consequential occurrences - what he calls Black Swans - that have shaped history most.
As a result, Taleb concludes, improbability is not a reason to act as if a possible event does not matter. Rather, it should inspire the opposite reaction.
Dr Eric Lybeck is an historical sociologist. He holds a PhD in sociology from the University of Cambridge, and now lectures in sociology at the University of Exeter. He is a member of the editorial board for Current Perspectives in Social Theory and is the author of Sociological Amnesia, edited with Alex Law, a book that explores the forgotten legacies of once influential sociologists whose work has since been neglected by the discipline.
Ways in to the text Who was Eric Lybeck? What does The Black Swan: the Impact of the Highly Improbable say? Why does The Black Swan: the Impact of the Highly Improbable matter? Section 1: Influences Module 1: The Author and the Historical Context Module 2: Academic Context Module 3: The Problem Module 4: The Author's Contribution Section 2: Ideas Module 5: Main Ideas Module 6: Secondary Ideas Module 7: Achievement Module 8: Place in the Author's Work Section 3: Impact Module 9: The First Responses Module 10: The Evolving Debate Module 11: Impact and Influence Today Module 12: Where Next? Glossary of Terms People Mentioned in the Text Works Cited