Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Ostrich Paradox by Meyer & Kunreuther

THE OSTRICH PARADOX: Why We Underprepare for Disasters by Robert Meyer & Howard Kunreuther (2017) Wharton Digital Press, p 132

The motivation for choosing is title was the force of recommendation of Adam Grant and kind words of appreciation for this title by Daniel Kahneman. Decision making is one of the very important functions of any organization or of any government. When the issue of public policy is discussed, it is the decision making which makes all the difference, just as in a business organisation it happens while devising successful strategies to compete. Decision making is really a very complex process as well as a risky proposition for state and organisations alike.

This book holding its premise in the nature of bird Ostrich makes a good sense driven by the force of nature.  System 1 and System 2 (thinking systems which drive us to use our brain cells) as narrated and defended in Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman gets blended with the perception policy makers have while deciding on their future course of action. Primarily the book is all about Six Biases that get to play while preparing for disasters or risks. It is defended that the reason why we underprepare for disasters lies in these six biases, viz., Myopia, Amnesia, Optimism, Inertia, Simplification and Herding. The authors believe that the researches on most of the disasters of past years are the result of harmful effects of these six systematic biases. These biases show the weakness while we commit System 1 error to perceive risk in haste and commit System 2 error while making decision. The first part of the book narrates these biases with the examples of disasters occurred in different geographies of the world. These examples make the arguments convincing and the biases strong.

Part 2 of the book is prescriptive and the authors provide some kind of remedial measures so that such disasters could be avoided.  Behavioural risk audit of each bias and its elaborate analysis makes the book worth contributing towards providing some practical solutions to deal with disasters. The authors propose four guiding principles to manage long term risk:
  1. Commit to long-term protective planning as a major priority.
  2. Commit to policies that discourage individual and community actions that increase their explore to long-term risks.
  3. Create policies that consider the cognitive biases that inhibit adoption of protective measures.
  4. Commit to addressing problems equitably.
These suggestions are well defended with preemptive figures. As a student of business and strategy I feel the book makes a very good case for making successful strategies while organizations handle competition. Lot of times organizations have suffered and faced these biases which gets into while dealing with sustainability issues within and beyond organization. Risk management is an important field of study where this title helps to provide some guidelines. Actuarial scientists have a lot to learn from this volume.  Some of the interesting bytes that I got from the book are:  
'while economics and statistics teach us how we should think about probability and outcomes when choosing between alternatives, we rarely follow these principles when actually making decisions. More often than not, we make choices under risk intuitively rather than deliberately.'
'The perceptions we form about risk are thus more cognitive cocktail of objective facts, subjective feelings, and emotional blend that often causes beliefs about risk to stray widely from those a statistician might prescribe.'
'It is hard to convince people that - the best return on an insurance policy is no return at all.'
Though the book is concise and written from the perspective of disaster management, it travels beyond that boundary and helps its reader to deal with problems through having a perspective.  The authors deserve credit for compiling series of disasters and developing a practical argument to look beyond and prescribe measures for preparations.
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