PODCAST 114: Human Cognitive Bias and Why You Can’t Trust Your Impulses with Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

This week on the Sales Hacker podcast, we speak with Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, an internationally recognized thought leader known as the disaster avoidance.

Dr. Gleb is on a mission to protect leaders from dangerous judgment errors known as cognitive biases by developing the most effective decision making strategies. His cutting edge thought leadership has been featured in over 550 articles and 450 interviews in the likes of Fast Company, CBS News, and Time. His expertise stems from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, speaking training, and writing. His most recent book is called Resilience: Adapt And Plan For The New Abnormal Of The COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic.

If you missed episode 113, check it out here: Secrets to Great Leadership During a Pandemic and Beyond with Barrett Boston

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Show Agenda and Timestamps

  1. Show Introduction [00:10]
  2. Who is Dr. Gleb Tsipursky and what is cognitive bias [3:15]
  3. Why we underestimated and badly prepared for the pandemic [8:22]
  4. How should we prepare for the challenges ahead? [14:53]
  5. The Fermi Paradox and the future of the human race [25:34]
  6. Why didn’t the U.S. respond as well as it could have to the pandemic? [31:54]
  7. How to prepare for future disasters [34:57]
  8. Sam’s Corner [38:53]

Show Introduction [00:10]

Sam Jacobs: Today on the show we’ve got Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, a well-known author who talks about the importance of understanding human cognitive bias. That’s basically a way of saying that our brains have evolved over millennia, and modern civilization is a fairly recent creation from that millennia. Most of the time we have built-in evolutionary impulses that we can no longer trust implicitly when it comes to making decisions. And so we’re going to have a conversation around his new book, which talks about how to avoid cognitive bias when dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, before we get there, we want to thank our sponsors.

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Now, without further ado, let’s listen to this interview with Dr. Gleb Tsipursky.

About Dr. Gleb Tsipursky and cognitive bias [3:15]

Sam Jacobs: Today on the show we’ve got an author and a doctor, Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, an internationally recognized thought leader known as the disaster avoidance expert. He’s on a mission to protect leaders from dangerous judgment errors known as cognitive biases by developing the most effective decision making strategies. His cutting-edge thought leadership has been featured in over 550 articles, and 450 interviews in the likes of Fast Company, CBS News, Time and many others. His expertise stems from over 20 years of consulting, coaching, speaking and training. And he’s also done significant amounts of research. Today, we’ll talk about his most recent book, Resilience: Adapt And Plan For The New Abnormal Of The COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic.

Dr. Gleb, welcome to the show.

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: I really appreciate you inviting me on Sam, thank you very much.

Sam Jacobs: Give us a little bit of context, tell us the company or the practice that you’re working on right now, and then of course we want to hear about the book. So, give us a synopsis of the book and then we’ll dive into some more substantive questions.

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: The company I run is called Disaster Avoidance Experts, and I’m the CEO. I’ve been doing work on disaster avoidance, which is in four areas. Decision making, risk management, disaster planning and management and strategic planning for about 20 years now, doing consulting, coaching and training. And I’ve also spent 15 years in academia as a cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist researching these questions. And you know, what we know is very clear that disasters of various sorts, problems of various sorts come from decisions. There are two types of decision that lead to disasters. One is our active decision where we actively made a decision that eventually resulted in a disaster. For example, the way that Boeing made a decision to release the 737 Max without thoroughly checking it. That’s a disaster. Another sort of disaster which I talk more about in the book is when we fail to make decisions that avoid a disaster, that prevent a disaster, that prepare for disaster.

Since we’re talking about airlines, a good example is how airlines have been hugely profitable from 2008 to 2009, but they chose to not save this money for a rainy day just in case as many smart companies did, but they all used it to buy back shares from their shareholders, increasing the shareholder value, but leaving themselves with an empty war chest. And as COVID-19 came round, they were left high and dry and they went to the government, hat in hand, to borrow money. So, that is a big problem.

Sam Jacobs: So, let’s dive into the book a little bit. Tell us about the Resilience book, and walk us through it.

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: Resilience: Adapt And Plan For The New Abnormal Of The COVID-19 Coronavirus Pandemic, looks at how we made such atrociously bad decisions that led to the disaster of our response to COVID-19. Of course COVID-19 came out of a situation where there are a number of countries that responded really well. Compare, for example, the US and South Korea. The US has 330 million people, South Korea has 60 million people. We found the first case of COVID-19 in the US and in South Korea on the same day, but right now South Korea has less than 300 deaths from COVID-19 and the US has over 100,000 deaths. If our populations were comparable the US should have had … And the US handled this as competently as South Korea, we should have had less than 1500 deaths.

Very obviously on a societal level our society screwed up. And at an individual level, many people screwed up, they made bad decisions, businesses, companies, individuals made really bad decisions, financial decisions, all sorts of decisions. So, in the book I analyzed why we make such bad decisions. Why do we actually make such bad decisions? What is the problem with our brain, our thinking patterns, our feeling patterns that cause us to make such bad decisions? Then analyze that, look at all the timelines for individuals, for businesses, for our society as a whole. Then I look at the kind of processes, brain processes that cause us to make these bad decisions, and how we can address them, how we can avoid them. There are called cognitive biases.

Dangerous judgment errors, mental blind spots that neuroscientists and behavioral economists like myself call cognitive biases. So, look at those, look at the specific ones that have sent us into a tailspin and then look at how we should actually adapt to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. A lot of people are doing it in very bad ways, very problematic ways, not responding to it correctly at all, thinking that everything will go back to normal, opening things up. Really bad.

Then I talk about how we adapt as individuals, how do we adapt as companies, organizations, then how do we make a strategic plan to survive and thrive through the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. What are the actual steps we should take? And finally how do we make good decisions, major decisions on various choices within the strategic plan. So, that’s the shape of the book. Analyzes the problem, talks about the underlying theory behind the problem, then goes into solutions, and then strategically plans to adapt the solutions, make sure that you survive and thrive in the pandemic and the post-pandemic transition.

Why we underestimated and badly prepared for the pandemic [8:22]

Sam Jacobs: Why do you think we were so badly prepared for, and why do you think we underestimated the pandemic? And walk us through what you think was structural in the human DNA or the neurological system that triggers these types of responses?

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: Unfortunately we were all taught to go with our gut as when we make our decisions. Follow your gut, trust your intuitions, follow your heart, all of these sorts of things. Well, that is actually very bad advice, what the modern research in cognitive neuroscience and behavioral economics reveals. We should not trust our gut. Our gut is not adapted for the modern environment. That’s not what it’s for.

It’s adapted for the savanna environment when we were hunters and gatherers living in small tribes of 15 people to 150 people. That is problematic and we suffer from many dangerous judgment errors called cognitive biases, as I mentioned before. The biggest, biggest problem in response to the pandemic is called the normalcy bias. So, the normalcy bias causes us to assume that the future will be much like the past. In the savanna environment that was a safe assumption. You would have those cycles of nature where you have winter, fall, summer whatever. You need to prepare for all of those and you will still live in the cave, 10 years, whatever, if you’re still alive. So, it was a safe assumption the future would be much like today. Unfortunately that’s not a safe assumption anymore.

We have very much living in a different world where progress is very fast, technology is very fast, and that is one dynamic of change. But another dynamic of change is these major disruptors that can really change our lives very quickly. For example the 2008, 2009 fiscal crisis was indeed a major disruptor. And people were not prepared for it, and did not respond to it well. Neither are people responding well to this disruptor.

The normalcy bias causes individuals, businesses, governments to fail to prepare for such catastrophes, both their likelihood and their impact. Because we can’t viscerally imagine the kind of changes that are accompanying something like COVID-19. Many people still don’t, they want to get back to a state of normalcy, they want to go back to normal. And could see this normalcy bias playing out in real life, I’m looking at people and I’m saying, “Wow, you’re just so very much, very much falling for this dangerous judgment error.” We’re never going back to December 2019. There’s no normalcy, there’s absolutely no way we’re going back there.

The only way to address COVID-19 is through a vaccine, and we will not have a vaccine until the end of 2021 at the earliest possible, widely available vaccine. Maybe approval by summer 2021, something like that, spring 2021, and then at least six months to produce enough of it for everyone. So, we’re into the end of 2021, and that’s if everything goes really well. And think about what our society is like if we have to deal with COVID-19 for all of this time. Various levels of restrictions, loosenings, it will be very hard, very difficult, and people don’t realize that they still want to get back to normal.

Sam Jacobs: How do you think we should shift our thinking to deal with the reality of the pandemic?

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: What we need to do is you want to adopt a realistic, even a pessimistic perspective. You don’t want to be nearly as optimistic as many people are about the pandemic. You want to realize the facts about the pandemic, it’s highly, highly contagious. That the infection doubles every three to six days in any outbreak that starts at first. Therefore, what we’ll be facing over the next year plus, at least, is waves of loosening. So, right now we’re in a state of loosenings and things are opening up, but then as COVID-19 cases creep up, there will eventually be in most regions some sort of restrictions once again. And it’s hard to envision right now those restrictions, but think about this, COVID-19 with great hospital treatment, all the things that we have available, it has a death rate of something like 0.5 to 1%. 0.5 in the lower bounds of estimates, 1% on the higher bounds of estimates, but let’s even take the lower bounds of 0.5%, so that’s 0.5%, that’s current. That’s how we got to 100,000 plus.

Now, what we know is that, of all people who get sick, including people who are asymptomatic, 5-10% need to go to the hospital, and what happens when hospitals are overwhelmed is that these people die. So, the death rate essentially shoots up from 0.5 to 1%, to five to 10%. 10 times as much. That’s what happened in northern Italy when hospitals became overwhelmed. And most politicians will just not let it happen, that’s just not the reality of the situation that we’re facing. That whatever you think it’s moral, whatever you think it’s not, that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about politicians. They can’t stand the politics of how it looks to have bodies in refrigerated trucks outside of hospitals as happened in New York City.

So, they’ll have restrictions, and that’s what we’re facing. We are facing these waves of restrictions. But that’s not the worst thing, so restrictions, loosenings, restrictions, loosenings, until vaccine. But vaccines might not be available, everything might not go perfectly well, we might not have it by the end of 2021. If things don’t go as well as we would like, we might not have a vaccine until ’22, ’23, ’24. Now what most people don’t realize is that the large majority of vaccines historically have not succeeded, have not gone through the human trials. You need a second batch, or a third batch of vaccines. It might very well be the case here. And that would get us in a lot of trouble, ’23, ’24, ’25. And that’s a scenario that you need to prepare for. You might want to hope for the best, by the end of 2021, that’s the best even though people might not think that that’s the best. That is the best. But you want to prepare for the worst, and the worst takes us into ’25 and later.

So, you want to be prepared for yourself as an individual, your household, your business, your organization, the government, all need to be prepared for this going to ’25 or later. You want to prepare for the worst, while even hoping for the best. And that’s the realistic pessimistic perspective that you need to take to understand what is going on in the future. And how all of our social norms and habits and perspectives will change drastically and how you want to be ahead of this shift.

How should we prepare for the challenges ahead? [14:53]

Sam Jacobs: I mean I understand that you want to be prepared, but what does that mean practically speaking? Does that mean save more money, spend less? And I’m asking because the economy, particularly the US economy is driven by consumer demand first and foremost.

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: There are a couple of questions here for individuals economically, but let’s take the economic one, the last one first. Yes, I think we’ll have unemployment of 15 to 20% for the next couple of years until somewhere, if we get really lucky then, until we start vaccination in summer of 2021, something like that. So, at least a year of 15% unemployment is very likely, and that’s very optimistic and very likely longer unemployment if we don’t get super lucky with the early vaccine.

So, that’s the first thing to realize, we are in a bad, bad spot economically. Then what individuals can do about it. One of the things that I have trouble with is when government figures tell individuals you need to go out and spend, spend, spend. And that of course they’re essentially asking them to sacrifice on behalf of everyone else. I mean, that’s not a smart thing to do. You want to help yourself and your family first and foremost. That’s the perspective that people should take, and that’s the perspective that I advise all of my clients to take. You want to help yourself, your business, your organization first and foremost. Don’t spend and think that hey I’m just going to help society by spending. You want to focus on yourself, you want to do the most good for yourself. How do you do that?

You should spend, but you should spend smartly. You should spend it the right way. One of the things that people should prepare for is to be ready for a situation of an outbreak in your area. Depending on where you are politically … I don’t mean your personal values, I mean your government … whatever happens there, there’s going to be certain politics around that influence how much the pandemic progresses before there’s going to be a restriction in place. And it might well get as bad as New York City where you live, I have no idea where you live, but if it gets as bad as that you want to be prepared for that sort of situation. What does that mean?

Well, you want to stock up on supplies, you certainly don’t want to be going out to the store in that sort of situation, so I don’t recommend that people empty the shelves of grocery stores, I recommend that they go online and buy in bulk various goods, products that they can use. So, ensure that you have physical safety. Cleaning supplies, medications that you need and so on.

You also want to prepare and protect your mental safety. What does that mean? Your mental wellbeing. Well, you need to replace the kind of entertainment and exercises you used to do outside or with other people by indoor, solitary activities in case of extreme lock downs or self quarantines due to COVID-19 in your household. And that of course takes money as well, the physical preparation and the mental preparation. So, you want to be able to, that’s spending some money on your mental wellbeing and replacing those sorts of entertainment. Sports is not going to be going on, you can’t go to a sports game, all of those sorts of things. Gyms are going to be closed in many places, all of those things you want to be able to replace. So, that is, those are things that you want to be thinking about.

Now, you also want to be thinking about protecting your relationships, with members of your family, with your friends and so on. How do you protect your relationships in that sort of context? And that’s a place where you can spend some money too, on getting various virtual interactions, various fun things that you can do together virtually with other people. And of course you can invest in your own hobbies. So, that’s going to be an important thing. So, hobbies, I’m spending a whole lot more money on gardening this year than I spent in previous years. It’s going to be both more fun and of course produce some food for me in case of a troublesome situation. So, those are the kinds of things where I think it will be smart to spend money, but you’re spending money on your safety and on risk management. Not simply to go out and buy luxuries.

Sam Jacobs: From what I’ve read the disease is far less contagious outside than inside. Confined closed spaces are where it spreads more easily, so there’s a strong argument to be made that people should, that it’s okay to spend time outside to go to the beach or go to the park as long as you’re practicing social distancing. Do you agree with that?

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: What the research shows is that, yes going to the beach, going outside is fine as long as you’re practicing social distancing. And if for some reason you can’t practice social distancing, certainly wear a mask. But ideally, practice social distancing. 10 feet is the best distance, six feet doesn’t quite cut it if somebody sneezes or coughs basically. Six feet is okay if they only breathe, but if they talk, they sneeze, they cough, you want to do 10 feet. So, yes, 10 feet outside, that’s good, that’s safe, that’s fine. You want to spend time outside as much as you reasonably can. That’s good for mental health, mental wellbeing. But of course a lot of things that people want to be doing are inside, indoors and that’s going to be a tough thing to do. So, the indoors are actually much less safe.

So, recent research shows that it’s much less safe than we tend to think, because just 10 feet of social distancing doesn’t do it. The problem is that if somebody, even if they don’t cough, even if they don’t sneeze, and of course they would cough and sneeze if they have COVID-19 or they might well, the problem is that even if they just breath and are completely asymptomatic, their breath eventually fills up the space. So, if you spend a couple of hours or an hour in a grocery store, that is going to put you at some risk if there’s significant contamination with COVID-19 in the air there. And of course, much more if you go to a barber shop, which is a smaller space, if you go to your workplace and spend eight hours there, that’s going to be pretty bad. So, there are a number of indoor spaces that are much more concerning than we tend to think they are.

Sam Jacobs: You know something that I think about a lot, that I feel is underappreciated? It’s the concept of integration. Many things are connected and so we can focus to the point, right, a lot of business people are saying if we only listened to the health experts, that’s true we might be fewer people might die. But on the other hand persistent 15-25% unemployment it’s not just that it’s bad, it’s that it leads to mental health issues, it leads to civic unrest. It leads to people doing bad things. It probably leads to dramatic increases in crime, so it’s really hard to look at something from any one perspective and just say, “Well, it’s going to be 15% unemployment through the end of 2021, we’ll have to deal with it.” Because as some people sometimes say, the cure can’t be worse than the disease, and all of these different factors are interconnected, so it’s not like we can just take one factor in isolation and say that’s the only thing we can solve for.

How do you feel about that? About the fact that listen if we have to stomach 20% unemployment through the end of 2021 a lot of terrible things are going to happen beyond people dying from coronavirus.

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: That’s a huge concern, I very much don’t want unemployment in 15, 20%, I just think it’s inevitable, because what you’re seeing is that people are not willing to go to a lot of places and spend their money while they’re worried and concerned, anxious about COVID-19. So, as you’re opening up various venues, people are anxious, they’re not going out, they’re not spending their money, so you can’t make them spend their money if they are not willing to spend their money. And you are still getting unemployment. So, if you don’t increase people’s sense of safety you won’t get them to spend money and this is one of those doom loops, where if you don’t open up places then of course people will not be wanting to spend their money. The solution out of this doom loop is for people to really shift their perspectives and focus much more on virtual interactions. Much more on virtual activities. And that’s what I’ve been talking about. That’s what I’ve already mentioned on this podcast, and in the book I talk extensively about shifting our economy and being more creative to being distanced interactions, socially. Not simply socially distanced, but all sorts of virtual interactions, focusing on virtual workplaces, everyone working at home.

I mostly work with middle market companies, and some with Fortune 500 companies, a few startups and they all, almost all of them were really hesitant about people working at home, but I pushed them to do it and eventually they all shifted or they were forced to shift by government decrees, but most of them went before the government, and they found that people, teams working at home had many less troubles, any less problems than they thought they did. So, right now they’re all downsizing their office, their real estate space. The commercial real estate is going to be really badly off, so there’s no question about it, but they’re basically either getting rid of their real estate space all together or very much downsizing it to such a state than then there’s not going to be more than one or two people in the office at any on time, to just take care of basic paperwork, do things like checks and so on. Those things are all being transitioned, they’re all really focusing on setting up virtual teams for businesses.

And there’s a lot of virtual activities that you can do as an individual that don’t put you at risk, whilst still getting the economy going. So, it’s not an either or, it’s how to do both. How to do both in a way that maximizes safety while maximizing income, and that’s virtual interactions.

The Fermi Paradox and the future of the human race [25:34]

Sam Jacobs: I’m sure you’re familiar with Fermi’s Paradox which is if aliens are out there why haven’t they contacted us? And a big rationale is, well, because they tend to blow themselves up. Intelligent species tend to eradicate their civilization before they have achieved the possibility of interstellar travel. Does it worry you about our race? About the human race?

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: Well, first of all thank you for bringing up the Fermi Paradox, Sam. This is the first time on a podcast that someone has brought that up and I’d love to geek out on it sometime. Probably not while your audience is listening, but yes, that is definitely a concern. And I think about Fermi’s Paradox a lot because it’s about existential risk. What kind of risk do we take that essentially causes the human race to either blow itself up completely or die out or go back to a barbaric civilization? That’s the sort of risks that we’re facing, and that’s the Fermi Paradox. Why has nobody contacted us? And there are a number of potential explanations which I won’t go into, with the Fermi Paradox, but the bigger question is about the concern with the human race.

You know what? I think that what I’m more concerned about is not the human race, but America. Because there are some countries that responded very well to the COVID-19. South Korea, as I mentioned, is an example. It’s a very global country. It’s 60 million people, a big player, responded really well to COVID-19. So, 60 million people, 300 deaths, if we responded that well we’d have less than 1500 deaths. There are other countries in the western world that responded really well. Germany is an example of a country that responded really well. It has something like 80ish million, and it’s certainly more similar culturally to the US. If you think about any countries that are similar to the US, the UK and Germany those would be the two countries that are most similar to the US. Well, Canada also. So, UK, call it Canada and Germany.

So, if you think about those countries, Canada and especially Germany have responded really well. The UK has not. Canada and Germany, but especially Germany has responded really well. It has something like 8000 people who are dead, and of course if we were in comparatives and comparative populations we’d have less than 25,000 people dead. So, that’s a really great response by Germany. So, there are countries that are government systems, and the interesting thing is it has held together, there is not nearly as much polarization, not nearly as much conflict in Germany. Also Canada, it has some more problems with higher death rates than Germany, but not nearly as bad as the UK or the US. And it has held together politically, there is very much consensus. In the US we have not held together politically, as there’s so much disagreement, so much conflict, so much tension that I think it’s more specifically about our own system and the COVID-19 situation is showing the kind of huge, huge risks that the US is running.

We are very much oriented to not minimizing risk, even though we should, by having the kind of political polarization and allowing the kind of destruction of focus on truth, on expert judgment, expert evaluation, where really in this situation you want to be listening to the experts. And I don’t mean simply the health experts here, I mean economic experts too. If I had to choose the two kinds of experts to listen to, I’d choose on the one hand health experts, on the other hand economic experts, and have a consensus somewhere in the middle where you want to minimize deaths, while minimizing economic damage and seeing where they come together. Like I said, virtual interactions are definitely a great way to come together that solves a lot of problems at once, and it requires people to just change their mental habits, change the way that they do things, but that’s a way to save lives and save money.

So, that’s really important. That is what I strongly think, I think that our society is really not prepared. Our society in particular, not simply the human race as a whole, is not prepared to deal well with a major crisis like this, and that’s very troubling for me to see the society that I care about most as an American not being ready for this huge problem to hit it.

There’s so many other problems that can come along, COVID-19 is far from the worst kind of pandemic that can come along. There are government engineered viruses in bio labs that are so much worse than COVID-19. So much worse. They have not simply a higher fatality rate, but they also have the same contagion rate or worse, they have worse because they can get through a number of routes of contagion. They’ll stay in the body like HIV stays in the body. COVID-19 doesn’t. And there are so many other problems that people who don’t show symptoms for two weeks and then they start dying and infecting everyone.

There’s so many worse scenarios than COVID-19, and I really hope that COVID-19 serves as a wake up call to our society, to our businesses, to individuals, to the government. I’m not sure if it will, but I really hope it does.

Why didn’t the U.S. respond as well as it could have to the pandemic? [31:54]

Sam Jacobs: It’s not. I don’t think it is. Do you think it’s a failure of our system of government? Do you think it’s a failure of the media? When you separate Germany from the United States, what do you think the key distinction is? Is it values? Why do you think that we didn’t respond in a way that you would feel is the right way to respond?

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: I think it’s a combination of government and values. So, in terms of the governing system, Germany has a much more cohesive united system. The US has a political system, a governing system that creates a great deal of tension between two opposing parties, and these parties create more and more polarization. Of course, that’s a big problem. In Germany you have a number of parties competing for power, and you don’t have such polarization between two parties, two camps. The red and blue, that’s not a thing that you have in Germany, you have various parties that can all come together and form alliances. That’s a much more cohesive, united system. It breeds unity, it creates more unity for consensus governance, rather than the US system which breeds polarization. That’s one.

Second the individualistic nature of the US system is quite problematic because you have individuals who are saying, “Well, I read a Wikipedia article and therefore I know better than the economic experts and the health experts and everybody else.” And people are too high up on their own opinion. They don’t realize the kind of importance of expertise, the value of expertise and listening to experts. I’m very fortunate and thankful to be living in Ohio where Governor DeWine actually does listen to health experts, and despite a number of people pushing him in one way or the other, either to protect health too much or protect economics too much. He’s trying to draw a middle road while listening to experts very thoroughly, very clearly. That’s many governors do not, and many politicians do not, and that’s a big concern for me. Experts are excellent at risk management. They can tell you, “These are the worst courses, don’t go there.”

But you see a lot of politicians taking the worst courses, and you see a lot of business leaders taking the worst courses. Look at what Elon Musk is doing trying to push against the government restrictions to open up the factory in California. That’s a really bad idea. He said in early March, on March 6th he tweeted that the coronavirus panic is dumb. And then on March 19th he tweeted that based on current trends close to zero new cases in the US by the end of April. Obviously he wasn’t correct in both of those tweets, but he keeps pushing, he keeps going against the actual estimates, the actual reality, the actual health experts and he has a lot of money. He has a lot of influence, a lot of sway. So, there are a number of business leaders who of course listen to him and who don’t trust health expertise, or economic experts doing the right things and taking the right path for the future and the benefit of our society.

How to prepare for future disasters [34:57]

Sam Jacobs: What can we do in the future to better prepare for future disasters?

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky: What you want to do is make sure to create a future oriented strategic plan, that’s not simply a simplistic strategic plan where you just think, “Hey, this is what will happen and here is what I will do.” That’s not the way a good strategic plan works. That’s not what you should really be doing. What you need to be doing as part of a strategic plan is draw out a number of possible future scenarios. So, with COVID-19 you can plan for something like what’s the optimistic scenario? What’s the moderate scenario? And what’s the pessimistic one? The optimistic one might say most people will be vaccinated by the end of 2021. The moderate one might say most people will be vaccinated by the end of 2024. The pessimistic one might say most people will be vaccinated by the end of 2027, and then you look at yourself, and look at your business, look at your household, look at your finances in each of these scenarios, and what you would do to address problems in them and seize opportunities in them and take steps to address problems and seize opportunities.

Look what kind of information would guide you into each of these scenarios, and then evaluate the information as it comes forward and as you’re going into the future to see which scenario you’re actually heading toward. That’s a specific principle of a specific strategic plan of responding to COVID-19, and as part of this scenario you should be scanning the future for a whole variety of problems. COVID-19 is something that was definitely predictable, a lot of people when they first heard about it, it was in some back pages about some back wood city in Wuhan, China, developing something, probably people thought that it wouldn’t reach them. Well guess what? Wuhan is called the Chicago of China, it has 11 million people, produces over 22 billion dollars in revenue, and has something like 250 international flights a day carrying probably something like 10,000 people in and out of China. It definitely influences you, it impacts you. You’ve got to be aware and scan the environment for various types of hazards, various types of disasters to protect yourself and your organization going forward.

You can if you manage risks effectively, and that’s the perspective, the realistic pessimistic perspective, and the risk management perspective that you very much want to take and pursue in order to make the right decisions and make sure that you survive and thrive in our uncertain and ambiguous future.

Sam’s Corner [38:53]

Sam Jacobs: Hey folks, Sam Jacobs. I hope you enjoyed that conversation with Dr. Gleb Tsipursky. I’m always fascinated by cognitive bias, the concept that our brains and bodies have evolved over millions of years, and we can’t always trust our gut or our intuition. We have to think more intellectually and more structurally about how we approach different issues. The most famous work on that has been done by hopefully somebody that you know, Daniel Kahneman, who wrote the book Thinking Fast And Slow, and he worked with Amos Tversky.

We have to understand how our brains work, so that we can better make more informed decisions and not exclusively rely on simple intuition. There’s no intuition around statistics. Statistics and our brains do not work well together, and so we need to learn about that so that we can make better decisions and not fall victim to our primitive minds. Anyway. Hope you enjoyed the conversation. I thought it was cool.

What We Learned

  • Who is Dr. Gleb Tsipursky and what is cognitive bias
  • Why we underestimated and badly prepared for the pandemic
  • How should we prepare for the challenges ahead?
  • The Fermi Paradox and the future of the human race
  • Why didn’t the U.S. respond as well as it could have to the pandemic?
  • How to prepare for future disasters

Don’t miss episode #115

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