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我们最大的敌人不是随机性,而是我们的自大 | 双语哈评



我们最大的敌人不是随机性,而是我们的自大 | 双语哈评


如果有谁能够证明命运无常的话,那一定非奥德修斯(Odysseus)莫属。独眼巨人、食忘忧果的人、众神、女妖以及船只失事,特洛伊战争结束后,这位希腊英雄在返回家园的途中遇到了诸多挑战,这些不过是其中的廖廖几个而已。可怜的奥德修斯,他不能掌控自己的命运。我想,我们中很多人都能体会到那种感受。如果让荷马今天再来写《奥德赛》的话,我打赌,他肯定会用市场力量来取代众神的角色,当然还有恶劣的老板。
 
事实上,芸芸众生,没有人能够不受运气左右,不论好运还是厄运。从概率上看,我们经历的好运和厄运相差无几。但是,在弗朗斯·约翰松(Frans Johansson)的《一炮走红时刻》(The Click Moment)、纳特·西尔弗(Nate Silver)的《信号和噪声》(The  Signal and the Noise)和纳西姆·尼古拉斯·塔勒布(NassimNicholas  Taleb)的《反脆弱性》(Antifragile)这三本书中,三位作者就人们如何最大效率地利用随机性各抒己见。每位作者在书中探讨的话题各不相同,约翰松是关于机缘巧合,西尔弗是关于预见性,塔勒布是关于不确定性。然而,他们的集体智慧相当重要:尽管我们对生活的掌控力比想象的要低,但这没有那么糟糕。


我们最大的敌人不是随机性,而是我们的自大 | 双语哈评

让我们从约翰松的书说起。在书中,他将成功描述为极其不可预测的事情,特别是当市场力量在起作用的时候。他写道,这也是为什么斯蒂芬妮·梅尔(Stephenie   Meyer)—用她自己的话来说,一位二流作家—却能卖出超过1.16亿本《暮光之城》系列图书的原因,这让英语学教授们大惑不解,她甚至都不是吸血鬼族的粉丝。但是,由于文学(就像很多其他职业一样)在规则约束性上不像体育或者古典音乐那样严格,专业技能并不是她取得成就的前提条件。她并不需要花1万小时做练习,而熟练掌握一门技能显然需要这样做。随机性让竞技场变得公平。约翰松声称,像梅尔这样的成功完全是随机性的。我们其他人很难接受这一点,因此,我们试图通过漏洞百出的分析方法来解释、配合这本书与众不同的表现。吸血鬼文学是个时髦话题。性也能大卖。但之后,数以百万同类话题的书再也没有达到过同样的销售规模。
 
约翰松反对这类事后推理。反之,他认为我们应该像梅尔、毕加索这些人,或者皮克斯和星巴克那些公司那样,不遵循某个既定计划,这样的独特性让他们走上偶然的成功道路。尽管约翰松没有提及,但是E·L·詹姆斯(E. L. James)的畅销书《五十层灰》(Fifty Shades of  Grey)也属于这类。她起初打算写一部受《暮光之城》系列启发的同人小说(Fan  Fiction),但是只有当她放弃了吸血鬼这个话题,并在小说中加入施虐和被虐这些出人意料的内容之后,这本书才获得了成功。
 
约翰松的建议基本上是准确的,即要与众不同。追随你的好奇心,发现一个机会,就要尽量去利用它。他的立场是,要做到特立独行,但这似乎有点痴人说梦。他认为,所有在市场上一炮走红的书都是黑天鹅,塔勒布用黑天鹅来描述那些小概率事件。我们当中几乎所有人,99.9%的人,都不会以这种方式获得成功,反之,我们都在按部就班的生活中创造着价值。所以,对于人们如何独辟蹊径获得成功,以及如何在小成就的基础上获得大成功,多一些了解也不错。
 
统计学专家西尔弗十分清楚,优秀的赌博者是怎么赢钱的,他的策略听起来跟约翰松的很像。以西尔弗案例研究中提到的Bob  Voulgaris的例子来看,在2000年-2001年NBA赛季之初,他下了一笔8万美元的赌注,这几乎是他的全部积蓄,他赌洛杉矶湖人队能获得总冠军。尽管这支球队看起来是一个相当靠谱的冠军争夺者,但是媒体并不相信这点。科比·布莱恩特(Kobe  Bryant)受伤了,洛杉矶湖人队上个赛季也没达到预期水平。七场比赛过后,赔率扩大至6.5:1。但是,样本规模(七场比赛)太小了,无法带来改变。Voulgaris就是在这个时候下的注。当洛杉矶湖人队获得冠军时,他赢得了52万美元。
 
现在Voulgaris年入数百万美元,因为他不愿意墨守成规。只有当他自己的信息与赔率显示的情况呈现出很大偏差时,他才会下注。他并非过于自信,只是想法与众不同罢了。
 
西尔弗补充说,不幸的是,我们大多数人,包括专家们,表现得不太像Voulgaris,更像醉鬼。下面来看一个例子:某醉鬼正在权衡是否应该开车回家。他认为自己一生中开过大约2万次车,从来没有出过严重车祸。因此,基于庞大的样本规模以及几乎完美的驾驶记录,他上路了。他做出了错误的决定。他的样本规模实际上为零。他另外的2万次驾驶记录不能算数,因为那时候他更清醒。
 
问题的关键是,我们真的不善于做预测,因为我们倾向于挑选那些与观点相符的数据,而忽略其他数据。
 
塔勒布赞同这点。塔勒布在《反脆弱性》(Antifragile)中说:我们试图避免不确定性,事实上,这反而增加了我们极力试图避免的冲击和压力发生的概率,这让我们自己变得更加脆弱。那么,他的建议是什么?要预计并拥抱随机性。城市、身体、经济、文化和进化,所有这些都能从外部冲击中获益。事实上,这正是内部系统运作的方式,它们能从无序性中获益。因此,要做到“反脆弱性”,我们应该持更开放的态度,基本上,这也是约翰松的建议。成功和新发现不能事先计划,它们往往是笨手笨脚和即兴行动的结果。
 
综上所述,这三本书应该能提醒我们所有人:我们最大的敌人不是随机性,而是我们的自大。遗憾的是,我们对于成功没有绝对的控制权。承认这一点至关重要,因为它能帮助我们应对大量的霉运。
 
切记:最终,奥德修斯还是回家了,而我们,也终能找到自己的路。

英文原文


If one person could attest to the randomness of life, he is surely Odysseus. Cyclopes, lotus-eaters, gods, sirens, and shipwrecks—these are just a few of the challenges the Greek hero encountered while trying to return home at the conclusion of the Trojan War. Poor Odysseus: He couldn’t control his own fate. I think many of us know how that feels. In fact, if Homer were writing The Odyssey today, I bet he’d replace his gods with market forces. Bad bosses, too.
 
The truth is that none of us is immune to luck, good or bad. Probability says we’ll have our fair share of both. But three books—Frans Johansson’s The Click Moment, Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise, and Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile—offer insights on how people make the most of that randomness. Each author explores a different subject—Johansson serendipity, Silver predictions, Taleb uncertainty—and their collective wisdom is important: Although we have less control over our lives than we think we do, that’s not such a bad thing.
 
Let’s start with Johansson, who depicts success as extremely unpredictable, especially when market forces are at play. That is why, he says, Stephenie Meyer, a mediocre writer by her own admission, could sell more than 116 million copies of her Twilight books, to the befuddlement of English professors. She wasn’t even a fan of the vampire genre. But since literature (like many other career pursuits) is less rule-bound than sports or classical music, expertise wasn’t a prerequisite for her achievement. She didn’t need the 10,000 hours of practice it apparently takes to master a craft. Randomness leveled the playing field. Johansson contends that successes like Meyer’s are completely random. The rest of us have a hard time accepting that, so we engage in flawed analysis to try to explain—and then match—the exceptional performance. Vampire lit is the “in” thing. Sex sells. But then, millions of similar books never achieve the same stratospheric sales.
 
Johansson rails against this type of post hoc reasoning. Instead, he says, we should act more like Meyer, or Picasso, or companies like Pixar and Starbucks. None of them followed a preexisting plan, and that very uniqueness led them down serendipitous paths. Though not cited by Johansson, E.L. James of Fifty Shades of Grey fame is another case in point. She began writing Twilight-inspired fan fiction but found fame only after she dropped the vampires and added something unexpected—a dose of human S and M—to the mix.
 
Johansson’s advice is mostly spot-on: Be different. Follow your curiosity. See an opening. Try to exploit it. But his road-less-traveled stance seems a bit dreamy-eyed. All the big market smashes he cites are essentially black swans, a term Taleb uses to describe improbable events. Almost all of us—99.9%, most likely—will never come close to that level of success; instead, we struggle in our daily work lives to create things of value. So it would have been nice to learn more about how people get lucky in minor ways, too—how they secure small wins on the way to the big ones.
 
Stat guru Silver knows how good gamblers win, and the strategy sounds a lot like the one Johansson recommends. Take Bob Voulgaris, one of Silver’s case studies. Early on in the 2000–2001 NBA season, he placed an $80,000 bet—most of his life savings—on the Los Angeles Lakers to win the championship. Even though the team looked like a legitimate contender, the media weren’t convinced. All-star Kobe Bryant was injured, and the Lakers hadn’t played up to expectations the previous season. After seven games, the bookies lengthened the odds to 6 1/2 to 1. But the sample size (seven games) was too small to make that change. That’s when Voulgaris put his money on the line. When the Lakers won, he took home $520,000. 
 
Voulgaris now makes millions a year because he refuses to lock himself into a position. And he makes bets only when there’s a huge discrepancy between his own information and what the odds show. He’s not overconfident. He just thinks differently.
 
Unfortunately, Silver adds, most of us—experts included—behave less like Voulgaris and more like a drunk person. This is how it works: A drunk guy is deciding whether or not he should drive home. He figures he’s driven his car about 20,000 times in his life and has never been in a serious accident. So on the basis of his large sample size and his nearly perfect driving record, he takes the wheel. Wrong choice. His sample size was actually zero. The other 20,000 times he drove don’t count, because he was sober. 
 
The point is that we’re really bad at making predictions because we tend to cherry-pick the data that confirm our opinion while ignoring the rest. Taleb agrees. In an excerpt posted to his website in advance of Antifragile’s release next month, he explains that our avoidance of uncertainty actually increases the occurrence of the shocks and stresses that we try so desperately to avoid. We make ourselves more fragile. His advice? Expect and embrace randomness. Cities, bodies, economies, cultures, evolution—all of these benefit from occasional shocks. In fact, that’s how organic systems work. They gain from disorder. So to become “antifragile,” we should be more open-minded and mistake-prone, which is basically what Johansson is getting at, too. Success and discovery aren’t plan-oriented endeavors. They’re the results of excessive tinkering and improvisation.
 
These three books should serve as a warning to all of us: Our worst enemy isn’t randomness; it’s our own hubris. Unfortunately, we don’t have absolute control over our success. But admitting this is crucial, and it helps us endure the rashes of bad luck we face. Remember: Odysseus finally made his way home. We’ll find our way, too.


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凯文·埃弗斯是《哈佛商业评论》英文版编辑协调人

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