Two recent books on decision making worth a read

Daniel Kahneman’s 2012 popular bestseller “Thinking Fast and Slow” is based on over 30 years academic research into decision making under uncertainty and has a large dose of practical heuristics and biases within its pages.  It’s a great read.  Get someone to buy it for you if you haven’t read it.

Hot on the heels of the success of Kahneman’s book it now seems that those responsible for UK competition policy are being encouraged to take more account of the impact of heuristics and biases and other behavioural economics effects.  A new book by UEA’s Centre for Competition Policy (CCP), launched tomorrow on 27th November 2013 at the Competition Commission, offers an interesting set of perspectives in this area.

You can get a free download of the book at:  and it is worth a read if you have any interest at all in the many influences on our bounded rationality and flawed decision making powers.  I’ve recently finished teaching my MBA course in Strategic Risk Management and it is surprisingly easy to make people doubt their rationality after exercises in such things as anchoring, and framing!  Both the Kahneman and CCP books will help us all understand why this is.

Teaching Strategic Risk Management. Have things changed over the last seven years?

Tomorrow I begin teaching the Strategic Risk Management module for the seventh year to UEA MBA students.  I hope they will be as successful as previous cohorts.How have things changed over these seven years?   Well, when I began teaching this module in 2007 the agenda was driven by compliance. Enron and Andersen were still in recent memory and Enterprise Risk Management (ERM) was the great hope for transparency.  In 2013 compliance is still important but the whole uncertainty and risk management agenda has become much more strategic.  Companies are beginning to recognise how managing uncertainty and risk is a source of new value in a rapidly commoditising world.  Chief Risk Officers are beginning to become much more than the insurance buyers for their organisation.   They look after ERM systems… but these have proved much easier to talk about than implement.  A new toolkit is emerging but slowly.

There is no doubt that the risk agenda has influenced strategy.  Even the vocabulary of SWOT has been affected. What used to be opportunities and threats is now often seen as opportunities and risks – sometimes without an understanding of the nuances between risks and issues and threats.  There you go – the SWOR analysis shows the integrations of the risk and strategy agendas.  That is provided you take the old fashioned view of risk as simply negative and are happy for issues to take over the threats part of the analysis (because they are immediate) and care less for the “distant” Black Swan risks which will destroy you.   Given the shift to short term thinking and agility perhaps that is an appropriate response?  Still much for my students to discuss in this area!

Have things changed? Is risk more better managed and controlled?  Well we certainly have more awareness of world of uncertainty and risk but scandals continue. And I’d put my money on them continuing into at least the forseeable future and probably longer. Why? Because as markets mature and both consumers and industrial buyers are able to compare competing offers easier then one of the only sources of superior profits is likely to involve taking risks with other people’s money (e.g banking) or even their environment (e.g. fracking).

Strategic risk management?  Still worth contemplation in a holistic way across the C-suite.  There’s profit and disaster in them there risks!

Another way to characterise risk

Risk is a pretty slippery concept.    It’s ether a terribly negative thing or a very positive source of new value.   We talk about it in many ways from strategic to operational risk, from systematic to non systematic (or use the systemic word), from managerial to organisational.  Just when I thought I’d got a handle on it and a steady vocabulary to share with my  clients and students someone  else defines it from another angle.

In a forthcoming e-book, “Deep Risk: How History Informs Portfolio Design,” William Bernstein (good name to have in this field after the excellent “Against the Gods” by Peter Bernstein) now talks about “shallow risk” and “deep risk”.  Shallow is temporary and deep is, well errr… deep and not temporary.  Shallow is the normal hustle and bustle of markets but it’s not permanently destroying capital.  Deep is a killer.  The sources of deep risks: inflation, deflation, confiscation and devastation.

Hmmmm…… can’t see an acronym there!   Not seen the book yet but the sources of “deep” risk must be a little more varied than the mechanistic ones he’s identified.  What about all the decision making risks?  These can be pretty “deep” on such a definition.    Markets work as much by psychology as they do by events.  Maybe he includes them… must read the book.

Marketing and risk… where is the new value?

As marketers we have many constraints.  However, in an ever changing world we have many new avenues to explore which can be thought of as either limiting factors or the source of new value dependent upon how we approach them.  Here are two 2013 reports which show business and  economic risks that provide the context for all our activities.  I’ll leave you to identify the sources of new value for your company or organisation.


World Economic Forum.

Here are the top 10 risks ranked in the  AON report:

Risk Description Risk Rank – 2013 Risk Rank – Projected 2016
Economic slowdown/slow recovery 1 1
Regulatory/legislative changes 2 2
Increasing competition 3 3
Damage to reputation/brand 4 8
Failure to attract or retain top talent 5 5
Failure to innovate/meet customer needs 6 4
Business interruption 7 11
Commodity price risk 8 7
Cash flow/liquidity risk 9 10
Political risk/uncertainties 10 6

Very worthwhile downloading the full report, or executive summary, (both free)  from the AON website address above.

Looks like innovation will remain a key critical success factor for some time.  And hopefully as marketers this is one of our key skills which we can contribute towards company dynamic capabilities in managing the uncertain future.  Got to be worth a Board position for that alone?