George Soros - The Age of Fallibility

One person who knows how to benefit from a good crisis bubble is George Soros.

Soros might just make it onto my list of Thought Leader heroes. His book ‘The Age of Fallibility’ was certainly one after my own heart with overtones of embracing failure in the very title. Despite running around this week for Maldives Complete, I did get a chance to read this book that has been on the top of my pile for some time.

The adage says, ‘If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?’ Well, Soros must be pretty smart. Making over a billion dollars in a single day on ‘Black Wednesday’ alone. He now devotes more of his time to his Open Society Institute which promotes the tenets of his personal philosophy. A philosophy predicated on failure…

“It is now widely recognized that the assumption of perfect knowledge [a critical premise to classical economics] was unrealistic…[T]he limitations of reason have become increasingly evident…It is time to recognize that our understanding of reality is inherently imperfect and that our decisions are bound to have unintended consequences. The Age of Reason ought to yield to the Age of Fallibility. That would be progress.”

“Fallibility has a negative sound. Indeed every advance we make in better understanding the relationship between thinking and reality has a negative connotation because it involves a retreat from perfection…Recognizing our fallibility has a positive aspect that ought to outweigh the loss of an illusory perfection. What is imperfect can be improved…If perfect understanding is beyond our reach, the room for improvement is infinite.”

Soros describes his ‘Postulate of Radical Fallibility’ which I might just co-opt as the ‘Postulate of Black Box Inexorability’…

“We are capable of acquiring some insights into reality, but the more we understand, the more there is to be understood. Confronted by this moving target, we are liable to overburden whatever knowledge we have acquired by extending it to areas where it is no longer applicable. In this way, even valid interpretations are bound to give rise to distorted ones. This argument is similar to the Peter Principle, which holds that competent employees are promoted until they reach their level of incompetence.”

The insight echoes the admonitions of Clay Christiansen’s ‘eat your own children’ prescription for business re-inventiion. It also reflect much of what I observe in present day Microsoft at micro (ie. individual) and macro (ie. cultural) level where the models and dynamics that Microsoft so intimately understood in the rise of micro-computer software (eg. channel dynamics, ecosystem, positioning, marketing) are being mug-handedly applied to areas where the dynamics are completely different (ie. consumer markets, Internet, social media).

Finally, a quote that resonated with me and paralleled a central message of Chet Raymo’s brilliant book ‘Sceptics and True Believers.’

“Government regulations and markets both have their strengths and weaknesses. The fact that one is imperfect does not render the other perfect. That is a fallacy in all fundamentalism.”