Looking Forward to Looking Back

“Someday, we’ll look back at this and laugh.”

This expression is reserved for people who, because they are suffering some awful physical or social pain, can find no reason to laugh right now. They have either blundered into made a costly mistake, collided with an avoidable obstacle, or stumbled into a social faux-pas. Yet, they are convinced that in a foreseeable future, their recollection of the moment will allow them a comic interlude. Continue reading

Advertisements

New evidence on the effectiveness of bonus payments in creative, analytical jobs

 

A few years ago a NY hedge fund boss asked me a strange question. I thought it strange because I believe he knew in advance how I would answer, and how he would respond to my answer. And both of us knew that nothing either he or I said would make a blind bit of difference to how hedge fund bosses ran their businesses. The question was: What do you think of individual performance bonuses? Continue reading

With A View To A Killing

 

The Lakeview Resort is one of Kerala’s loftiest hotels, not only because it is situated some three thousand metres above sea level, but because it is one of the few resorts to have qualified for the coveted five-star rating. The residence is situated in the middle of endless acres of manicured Indian tea plantations and overlooks a picturesque valley and the famous lake that inspired its name. Since the days of English colonisation, when the station was established, visitors have flocked there simply to be able to gaze eastwards at dawn as the sun rises between the hill peaks that separate Kerala from the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. The dawn mist acts as a prism, throwing the blaze of colours progressively from the sky, down onto the lush carpet of tea bushes and finally scintillating across the cool waters of the lake. The Lakeview is also a hotbed of behavioural economics. Continue reading

Going Up? Governance in Crony Companies

Up Buttons

One much-discussed indication of a firm’s good governance is hiring and promotions free of nepotism[i], cronyism or any other form of favouritism. Yet, despite the growing importance stakeholders attach to the ‘G’ in ‘ESG’, many organisations, both public and private, struggle to change their ways. Evidence remains of advancement based on family, nationality, language, politics, religion, alma mater and, of course, gender and ethnicity.

The consequences of unfair patronage for the subsequent performance of the patron and their protégés are varied, and (annoyingly) not always negative. However, the impact on everyone else in the organisation, is unambiguously bad.

Continue reading

Do you LIKE it, or do you WANT it?

“And do what you like. Yeah, and doowutchyalike. Everybody doowutchyalike” Digital Underground

In their 90’s hedonic anthem, Digital Underground invited party revellers to ‘doowutchyalike’. Yeah. Doing just what we like is probably the purest form of satisfaction. So, if our goal is to maximise the collective satisfaction of a population, we ought to distribute the limited resources so that as many as people as possible get as much of the things they like as possible.

The problem is that it is difficult to discover what people like without asking them individually. What people want, in contrast, is immediately revealed in their purchases. Continue reading

WannaCryDiversity

On a single day last May, a massive cyber-attack called WannaCry Ransomware blighted over 200,000 Windows computers in some 150 countries. It might have been more had it not been for the quick actions of Marcus Hutchins, a cyber-security expert, who discovered a kill-switch built into the ransomware’s code. Apparently, before infecting a system, locking its files, and demanding a ransom from its owner, the ransomware first checked for the non-existence of a gobbledygook web domain. Hutchins simply registered the domain for $10, brought it into existence by pointing URL requests to his own server, and thereby thwarted the attack. Hutchins became an overnight hero (sadly for him, the new status did not last much longer than overnight). However, you or I could have claimed some credit for halting WannaCry. All we would have needed was Hutchins in our team, and set him to work. Failing that, we would have to have had at least one person in our team capable of coming up with the idea of looking for a kill switch, another able to find it hidden in the code, and another with a credit card to put in a call to GoDaddy.

Continue reading

Straight From the Gut

In the decision sciences, a clear distinction is made between risk and uncertainty. You take a risk when you know in advance all the potential outcomes of your choice, and their respective probabilities. This risk description covers things like coin tosses, lotteries and spins of a slot machine. In such circumstances, only cold logic, statistical thinking, and possibly a pocket calculator, should influence your decision about whether to run the risk or not. As soon as some of the outcomes, and/or some of the probabilities, are not known, we enter the realm of uncertainty. In this less ordered domain, reason and statistics become less useful because there is nothing to calculate. Instead, argue decision scientists, one should rely more on one’s intuition, gut feelings and rules-of-thumb. Examples of such judgements include living to be one hundred years old, falling in love, or being killed by a terrorist. Any decision to bet on them – or insure against them – involves dealing with uncertainty… Read more on TCAM’s website

Why some teams are effective and others are not

effective-teams.png

Can you think of an example of an effective working group? I can: a disaster rescue and recovery team. These are groups of men and women who, in the aftermath of a catastrophe, work to rescue the victims and to prevent subsequent loss of life. They are composed of specialists, like engineers, medics, electricians, and dog handlers. In the case of major disasters, such teams are brought in from several different countries. Some of them might never have worked together before. Yet the operation runs effectively. If teamwork is possible in such a diverse group, under intense time and performance pressure, in inhospitable working conditions, and among people who might not even have met before, why can it sometimes seem so difficult in the typical corporate environment?

Continue reading

Old-Age Benefits: Are Older Investors Better?

elephants-1081749_1280At least one asset is guaranteed to enrich your portfolio this year: your investing experience. Stick at it long enough and you will encounter practically everything from start-ups to meltdowns, flashes in the pan to flash crashes, slim pickings to fat fingers. You will also discover the financial impact of earthquakes and tsunamis, of both the political and geological varieties. The wisdom of the years, one might argue, ought to make you a better investor. [Read more on TCAM’s website]