The one-sentence summary

Don’t fool yourself: much business performance is down to chance, not skill.


  • Everyone wants to succeed, but what causes some people to be more successful than others? Is it really down to skill and strategy, or something altogether more unpredictable?
  • The book is all about how we perceive ‘luck’ in our personal and professional lives. We often hear that an entrepreneur has ‘vision’ or that a trader is ‘talented’ but all too often their performance is down to chance, not skill.
  • This is because we fail to understand probability and so continue to believe events are non-random, finding reasons where none exist.
  • Black Swans are unexpected random events. This is based on John Stuart Mill’s observation that no amount of observations of white swans can prove that all swans are white – the sighting of a single black swan can disprove it. Seeing George Bush alive many times does not prove that he is immortal.
  • Many rich people are just lucky idiots.


  • This is not a text book, but there are many thought-provoking messages in it:
  • Journalists are bred to not understand randomness – they must have a reason
  • The noise in markets usually disguises the signal
  • Because a rich person can lose it all, they cannot be said to be truly happy until their life is finished (this was observed by the Greek legislator Solon, when unimpressed with Croesus, supposedly the richest person ever)
  • The Monte Carlo Simulator is a computer programme that simulates random occurrences, rather like extended Russian roulette. Examining its behaviour makes a nonsense of most so-called patterns in market analysis.
  • Those predicting events usually don’t know what they are talking about, or what can sensibly be deduced from the data they have.
  • There is usually no link between the most recent event and the one about to happen – this is crucial when analysing trends.


  • The book is quite long and highly technical – it is not for the faint-hearted, despite having sold huge numbers and being translated into 18 languages.
  • The author quite enjoys being obscure or obtuse.