Monday, November 16, 2009

Monday musings on risk

I have been thinking for a while about risk. My summarised view on learning is that without risk very little learning happens. So rather than focus on the learning content we should focus on the attitude to risk. Encourage people to challenge themselves and others a bit more, step outside of their comfort zones more often and reflect and they will learn more.

Thus I am disappointed to read Lucy Kellaway's piece this morning on managerial bone-headedness as it suggests that the window of humility is closing.

The idea that the recent "unprecedented" shock to our global economy might precipitate a reflection on the whole model seems to have been naive. Maybe like macro and micro economics or classical Newtonian and quantum physics, my little theory of learning doesn't apply across all realities.

A small girl stops peddling and falls off her bike or a little boy shakes a Coke bottle violently and covers the kitchen in stickiness. It is reasonable for them to reflect, adapt and maybe learn. But we drive the entire world's financial system into the buffers and one year on pretty much nothing has changed.

I'll be the first to accept that the reasons for "the perfect financial storm" are far from clear. There are a multitude of variables which will keep economists in decent arguments for years. But to file it under, "Too difficult to understand. Carry on as before" seems a little like a cop out.

Tim Harford (The Undercover Economist) is also good today on choice. Which makes me think a bit more about the above. Does too much choice mean the same as no choice in terms of a reduction in quality? You could think in terms of market and planned economies both being routes to failure.

But this also applies to learning. If you have no choice you won't reflect and learn. If you have too much choice you can't reflect and learn. New model of politcal and economic thought anyone??

Interesting to note that today my thoughts are entirely provoked by the FT...

1 comment:

Peter Edstrom said...

About that FT article...

I'm wondering if the real difference in the early jam experiments was that people were inexperienced and generally unfamiliar with having many options. They therefore carefully and fairly considered all options before making a decision.

Today, we are so comfortable with a plethora of choices that instead of carefully considering, we have become experts at whittling them down to a manageable few. In my own experience, I see people simply disregarding many valid options because they simply don't fit with their bias and world view. They barely acknowledge the other choices - much less give them a fair shake.

I like your risk/learning correlation, and think you are dead on. Why risk something new when the old is working well enough? Change is hard, and when it comes down to it, most people want the familiar and the comfortable. Change leaves you uncomfortable over and over again.

I really like how Niccolò Machiavelli summed it up: "And let it be noted that there is no more delicate matter to take in hand, nor more dangerous to conduct, nor more doubtful in its success, than to set up as the leader in the introduction of changes. For he who innovates will have for his enemies all those who are well off under the existing order of things, and only lukewarm supporters in those who might be better off under the new."

Peter Edstrom