Say there are two Doctors with similar rank and experience. One looks like Doctors do in movies: white lab coat, gold-rimmed glasses, silver well-groomed hair, winning smile, Ivy League diploma on the wall. The other is unkempt, arrogant, unusual accent, untucked shirt, wearing sneakers, 3rd tier medical college. Which would you choose?
Taleb says go for the second. The first Doctor has all the right memes – they look exactly like we expect – so everyone gives them the benefit of the doubt. If both Doctors have reached a similar level, the second achieved that despite not ‘looking the part’. Only uncommon talent can get away with incongruous memes.
The best software developers wear shorts and flipflops to work. They respect merit not hierarchy. Good food is often served from humble establishments. Geniuses often have poor personal hygiene. Steve Jobs regularly went without bathing – a tradition stretching back to Edison, Beethoven, and Michelangelo. Musk’s bad behavior on Twitter is a good sign – it’s the CEOs with extensive media-training that are insecure in their positions.
The rule is to invert your expectations. If someone looks like a stereotype for their profession, that’s a sign they’re not very good at it. When someone tries to impress you with what school they went to, what companies they worked at, or who they know, you should suspect they’re covering for a lack of substance. Fraudulent companies always have immaculate office furniture. The best operators are too busy working to care about crafting the right image.