Friday 2014-11-28

The Up Side of Down by Megan McArdle

A public-policy-oriented rant on failure.

McArdle doesn't get around to the practical mitigation of huge downsides: divorce, maiming, death. Unfortunately, that's why I read this book. She seems to have accepted a high level of risk as just unavoidable and assumed this works for us as well.

Of course that's false.

We are devoting ever more of our lives to seeking out what P. J. O'Rourke dubbed the Whiffle Life: the life in which nothing can ever go seriously awry.

Just as the above quote's risk encapsulation is eminently correct.

Multiple iterations, Skillman told the audience, almost always beats single-minded focus around a single idea. The people who were planning werent learning. The people who were trying and failing were.
Stibel agrees that its about taking smart chances, not failing for the sake of failure. He is careful never to bet the farm on anything and puts a great deal of effort into ensuring that the failures arent too costly. The object is to take lots of small, manageable risks, because that, he says, is the only way to figure out what really works.
You can rewrite garbage. You cant rewrite nothing.
Judging by my Twitter feed, most recent college grads thought they had a pretty decent case. If weve reached the point where elite kids are no longer capable of parsing simple instructions without someone to hold their hand and explain to them what the words do not discuss might imply, then our educational system is truly in crisis.
Jim Manzi, whose company specializes in helping companies run experiments on everything from compensation to retail product placement, published Uncontrolled, a book on how to harness the power of experimentation to make better corporate and government policy.
Once upon a time, there was an old company with a very old problem: their formerly very successful product wasnt selling as well as it used to. An upstart competitor was cutting into their sales. So they started a top-secret project to develop a replacement product. These men werent stupid: they knew that this was risky. And so they commissioned market research. They commissioned more market research than maybe anyone else in the history of the planet. Even before they had finished developing the new product, market research teams were criss-crossing the country, asking people how they might feel about the change. They did surveys and focus groups, and then they did them again. They test-marketed free samples. And while a minority of customers were resistant, the overwhelming majority said Yes! Yes, we love the new product! Please give it to us! So they did. They got rid of their old product and replaced it with this astonishingly popular new creation.
A few years back a friend of mine was driving a rental car around a curve on a highway when suddenly the steering stopped working. She was hit by (she thinks) five other cars and sent hurtling across the median strip, stopping just short of plunging into the oncoming traffic. It was only when the state troopers came that she realized how bad the accident had been; the car was totaled, and she should have been killed, instead of hobbling away with a banged-up knee. Obviously, she was shaken by it, but this was a true auto accident: there was nothing she could have done to prevent it.
You shouldnt worry about getting trampled if something really bad happens, because most people dont necessarily freak out when disaster strikes. Many people, in fact, dont do anything. Hundreds of people died in the World Trade Center because they wandered around talking to one another and wondering if they should leave rather than picking up their bags and getting the hell out of there.
According to Amanda Ripley, author of The Unthinkable, a book about disasters, an astonishing number of people die in airplane disasters because instead of evacuating the plane, they sit in their seats and worry about their hand luggage.
swift and consistent punishment is by far the best way to change behavior.
We stepped into homeownership the way one steps over a doorstep. One morning, two happy renters idly decided to stop by an open house just to look. A week later we were preparing our first offer.