Risk Savvy | Gerd Gigerenzer

Summary of: Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions
By: Gerd Gigerenzer


Navigating the complex world of risk and uncertainty is no easy task, but with the guidance of Gerd Gigerenzer’s ‘Risk Savvy: How to Make Good Decisions,’ you’ll be equipped to make better choices. Diving deep into the distinction between risk, certainty, and uncertainty, Gigerenzer provides insights on how our misunderstandings of risk can affect the decisions we make. The summary highlights the importance of considering different factors in analyzing risk, such as probability calculation and gut feelings, before making a decision. Moreover, the book demonstrates the significance of imparting risk knowledge to the younger generation, fostering a risk-savvy society.

Rethinking Risk

Risk is not just about high-stakes gambling or uncertain outcomes. The essence of risk lies in having many possible outcomes and being aware of them and their probabilities. Understanding the difference between uncertainty, certainty, and risk is crucial. For instance, playing a slot machine involves risk as the machine’s design allows you to prepare for possible outcomes. On the other hand, a hot stove only leads to a certain outcome – burning your hand. While poker may seem uncertain, there is a limited number of variables, making it knowable and a situation of risk. On the other hand, weather is often uncertain, with many factors affecting possible outcomes. By expanding our understanding of risk beyond traditional associations, we can make more informed and strategic decisions in various aspects of our lives.

Mistaking Risk for Certainty

People often mistake risky situations for certain outcomes. This usually happens due to a lack of awareness of hidden uncertainties in decision-making processes. The consequences of this inability to see beyond the most obvious outcomes can be devastating. This is illustrated through the story of a turkey that mistakenly believed that the only possible outcomes were being fed or not being fed but failed to consider the hidden uncertainty of Thanksgiving. Similarly, people may falsely believe there is only one possible outcome for a decision, such as an HIV positive diagnosis without considering the possibility of a wrong test result. Understanding the differences between risky, certain, and uncertain situations is crucial for making sound decisions.

Understanding Risk Calculations

Knowing how risk is calculated is critical to making informed decisions.

When it comes to making decisions based on risk, it’s not as simple as just choosing the option with the best odds. There are multiple ways to calculate risk, including factors such as frequency, design, and believability. For example, a 5% risk of a nuclear meltdown near your home might seem low, but it’s important to know how that percentage was reached. Did it come from previous meltdowns (frequency)? Or was it based on the plant’s structural integrity (design)? Are other experts in agreement (believability)?

Trusting blindly in statistics can lead to manipulation, which is why it’s crucial to understand how risk probabilities are calculated. If the local news reports a risk of a nuclear meltdown, it’s essential to ask where they got their information. If the calculations were based on the plant’s design, the risk might not be as high as initially reported. But if other experts weigh in and declare an imminent meltdown, the risk probability drastically increases.

Before making any drastic decisions based on probability reports, understanding how to calculate risk is critical. This knowledge ensures that the information reported is well-founded, and you can make an informed decision based on the statistics provided.

Making Decisions in Uncertainty

In the face of uncertainty, making a quick and sound decision is possible by using a simple rule of thumb. Pilots are trained to use this approach to land a plane on the Hudson River successfully. Similarly, an insurer would have made more money if they had followed the simple asset allocation rule of allocating the money equally. Complex solutions may not be comprehensive; hence, in unpredictable environments, simple rules of thumb should be relied upon for reliable outcomes.

Good Enough is Often Better

Sometimes, when there is no best decision, we have to pick a “good enough” option. Making a decision based on this can save us from making the wrong choice. We need to be aware of all possibilities, but when that’s not possible, we should pick a choice that fulfills our most important priorities. Trusting our gut feeling can also lead to good decisions when we don’t have enough information. Gut feelings come from personal experience and can be a form of unconscious intelligence.

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