ALS Topic 60 - ONLINE - Too Risky! .. or Who Dares Wins?

Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar Saturday, 23 May 2020 11 am to 1:30 PM Central Australian Time (end time flexible)

Venue: ONLINE using the Webex app  (Webex is like Zoom).

About Focus Questions: a) Please read them before you come to the meetup. Think about them so you have more than "instant opinions" to offer. b) Feel free to add more focus questions. c) THE FOCUS QUESTIONS ARE JUST A MENU TO CHOOSE FROM. From this menu we can discuss whatever seems interesting. d) Focus questions are not intended to push one viewpoint! You can adopt any position you wish. We actually like friendly disagreement - it can lead to deeper understanding

Focus Questions

1. What kinds of risks (if any) are you prepared to take? What risks do you avoid? Do you get a buzz from risk taking?

2. What part does risk taking play in personal relationships and social life generally? Marriage has been called life's biggest gamble. How true is that?

3. Do some cultures as a whole favour risk takers more than others? The people in every culture have idealized stories about themselves. Are such self images realistic? - e.g. Americans see themselves as risk takers yet rush to buy guns when frightened by an invisible virus. What kind of risk taking is favoured in Australia (..really)?

4. "Life expands or shrinks in proportion to our courage" [Anais Nin]. ""Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth" [Christian Bible - Mathew 5:5]" . Is there are contradiction between these two aphorisms as they apply to actual personality types? Which tendencies should our culture cultivate? Why?

5. What kinds of people handle different kinds of risk best? Examples? For example - Some risk taking becomes routine, so the risk is almost forgotten by many (e.g. driving). Some risk is self-explained away in the name of pleasure (e.g. smoking, a bad diet). Some risk to individuals, companies, countries arrives "unfairly", without warning (e.g. Covid-19) leading to different reactions (denial, suspicion, anger, resignation, innovation ...).

6. Life experience has taught me to treat most engagements with medical doctors or hospitals as a high risk activity; (medical science is still in its infancy, doctor's guesses and prejudices are often wrong, hospitals make endless mistakes). Yet year after year the general public lists doctors as the most trusted people. What is going on here?

7. How many business enterprises are actually driven by risk taking, as opposed to routine? Examples? Where would you prefer to find a job - with 'safe' employers, or less secure occupations? Why?

8. If you wanted to invest your life savings in a small business, what would you choose? [Note that a very common choice is some kind of franchise. People think that this is less risky. Yet there are countless examples of franchises that really defraud the franchisees].

9. Business leaders often say they are dynamic risk takers. Yet a common political criticism of neo-liberal ideology is that although these people say they want "small government", in practice they want to "privatize the profits and socialize the losses". If true, this is a moral hazard. Is this a fair criticism? [e.g. in the Covid-19 crisis, businesses have universally asked government to take over their losses. The same happened during the GFC in 2008 - the American government bailed out the banks (but not the millions of working Americans who lost their homes and pension savings)]

10. Australia as a nation is in a high risk situation, caught strategically between a trade dependence on China (which is little trusted), and a defence dependence on USA (which is trusted less and less). Indonesia next door, with 270 million (mostly) badly educated people and unstable governance, is also a high risk neighbour. What should we do? Why?


Extra Reading, Comments and Links

Peter Hartcher (5 May 2020) "When facing a menagerie of menace, choose your zookeepers wisely". Brisbane Times @  [Thor, comment: recommended article]

Matthew Knott (May 5, 2020) "Grim new coronavirus projections collide with American optimism" Brisbane Times @  [Thor comment: 'Give me liberty or give me death!' was the cry as they rushed around shoulder to shoulder waving guns and defying requests to stay at home. Well, they are getting far more death than the average, with minds enslaved by slogans. Enterprise and innovation need calculated risk taking. Stupidity guarantees stupid risk taking - like a Covid-19 death rate per 100,000 in US thirty-six times higher than in Australia -  ].

Adam Tooze (7 May 2020) "'We are living through the first economic crisis of the Anthropocene' - Forget the butterfly effect, this is the bat effect – our stranglehold on nature has unleashed the coronavirus outbreak. And the pandemic is forcing us to rethink how to run our networked world". The Guardian @ 

Thor May (2015) "The Unexpected Power of Stupidity" The Passionate Skeptic Website @  [This article includes many links to read. Why is stupidity relevant to risk? Because it is both a risk multiplier and in many cases a predictable vector ] [Quote: "It turns out that stupidity is complicated. Your stupid act or mine may be boringly simple, but the whole mass of human stupidity acted out on a daily basis is a Gordian knot which may be beyond human comprehension let alone resolution, even as it strangles the life out of the planet. In fact I know it is insoluble because your simple minded stupidity, and yours, and yours … is beyond my comprehension. If we all understood each other perfectly 100% of the time, our judgements of other people’s stupidity would probably reduce by about 95%. We never understand each other perfectly, even after long acquaintance, and there is no prospect that we ever will understand each other perfectly (life would be extremely boring if we did). Therefore the best we can do with the stupidity monster is to sort out some of its more common disguises"]

Rutger Bregman (9 May 2020) "The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months - ‘Our secret superpower is our ability to cooperate’" The Guardian @  [Thor, comment: Where risk is extreme, history has shown again and again that the best hope of survival is generous but disciplined cooperation. This heartwarming story of survival by six shipwrecked and marooned Tongan boys proves it once again.]

Garrett M. Graff (7 May 2020) "Experts Knew a Pandemic Was Coming. Here’s What They’re Worried About Next.[in USA]" Politico Magazine @ 

Interesting - Halve your risk of death if the Invisible Enemy visits. It might help big time if you are loaded up on sunshine and vitamin D tabs - Ali Daneshkhah, Vasundhara Agrawal, Adam Eshein, Hariharan Subramanian, Hemant Kumar Roy, Vadim Backman. (April 30, 2020) "The Possible Role of Vitamin D in Suppressing Cytokine Storm and Associated Mortality in COVID-19 Patients". medRxiv, posted in Science Daily @…/2020/…/200507121353.htm  ... and in a hit at the conspiracy theorists, it's looking as if Convid-19 was in France by 16 November 2019 -  . The Chinese themselves didn't know what was going on back then.

Drake Baer (28 August 2014) "How Happiness, Sun, Parachutes, And Other Things Make You Make Risky Decisions". Austalian Business Insider @  [Thor, comment: Surprise, surprise - The psychologists find that women (not so much men) who like to stay out late are impulsive risk takers. Also, for those hooked on risk (e.g. Sky divers) it's no good making things safer. They'll just look for other ways to kill themselves. Apparently we are all more likely to take dumb risks (e.g. on the stockmarket) in sunny weather]

Natalie Wolchover (August 30, 2011) "Why Do People Take Risks?" Live Science website @ 

Valerie Voon (September 6, 2016) "Why danger is exciting – but only to some people". The Conversation website @ 

Marvin Zuckerman (November 1, 2000) "Are You a Risk Taker? - What causes people to take risks? It's not just a behavior. It's a personality". Psychology Today @

Bryn Williams => Thor as a linguist you may have some interest or input into your reference of the Christian scripture 'Blessed are the meek'. Of course translation from ancient languages are always problematical especially when then transferred to a current idiom. So my understanding is this has always been contested as 'meek' in most understandings is ' weak, compliant etc". However the ancient Greek meant much more ' humility ' and so inferred those with an ability of power (?) etc chose not to use it but to include those without. I think this makes much mores sense within the beatitudes but of course just an opinion. However maybe argued a great strength??

Thor => Bryn, you are right of course. Words are chamelions (which is why supposedly fixed templates like the Bible and the American Constitution are always open to misuse and dogmatism). Translation makes words even more slippery. Yeah, it was probably a bad choice for contrasting idioms. Courage usually requires confronting risk, but there are so many kinds of courage, and so many kinds of risk. "Meek" has surely migrated its meaning from Greek to Latin to Middle English to the ambiguity of Modern English. My first sense was 'timid' which almost certainly doesn't fit the Biblical intention. 'Self-effacing' might be closer, though modern life doesn't seem likely to let the self-effacing inherit the earth (ask Trump). There are certainly quiet heroes ready to take risks, and yes, more inclined to humility. As for the S.A.S. motto, 'Who dares wins', I am reminded of a rueful Chinese friend who recently tried to short the stock market. I told him of that old trader's idiom, 'Never try to catch a falling knife!'

ian beutler => might i be accused of promoting wisdom, or racism, both of which may have become matters of growing aussie apathy, if i were to mention an alleged saying of the Master Kong (Confucius)? .. Man who catch falling knife get the point.

Peter Hartcher (May 19, 2020) "On the brink of peril, Australia is left wondering what the mad sheriff has in mind" Brisbane Times @  [Thor, comment: The risk calculation goes beyond Trump and Xi Jinping. It's clear that when either or both are gone, Australia will be stiffed by large nations whenever it is convenient. Fighting somebody else's wars, as Australia has done now for a generation with America, is a fool's game. I realized (like many of my peers) that it was a fool's game 50 years ago, but it has taken this long for Australian politicians to accept the perilous truth that we are alone in the world. A week or two ago Trump mindlessly undermined our participation in the joint-strike aircraft project, putting 2000 jobs at risk. Now the PRC blocks sales by Australian barley farmers for a couple of billion dollars in a typical bit of mafia coercion, spite really. Where will the PRC get replacement barley from? Well from USA of course, as part of their gang warfare 'tariff deal'. Did the Americans offer early sponsorship to back Australia in an impartial global Covid-19 enquiry? Hell no. That might imperil their agricultural sales windfall to China with an election coming up. The latest trick - US has just banned the sale of critical computer chips to Huawei, not only from America but worldwide, ignoring the sovereignty of all other nations. The reason? America no longer has the engineering capacity to mount competition with Huawei's 5G rollout ( ;  ). Where they can't compete they destroy; (shades of the 19th Century British Empire). So much for the propaganda of free market capitalism. The PRC and USA work on the same philosophy of force. Australia will continue to be collateral damage because the cost to superpowers is low].

Michael Braunstein (July 27 2019) "Death by Medicine: Redux". The Reader website @  [Quote: "There is nothing more miraculous than modern medicine. What the miracle-makers in an emergency room can do to save a life is astounding. But once the patient advances beyond that, mistakes and even non-mistakes can kill a patient more often than disease".] [Comment, Thor: Medical treatment, or mistreatment, is the most common cause of death in the United States. Australia is certainly the same. I am sure of this not only from the research, but from direct personal experience in seven countries. Medical error has caused me injury multiple times, and ignoring medical advice (after undertaking my own research into sources and causes) has saved me from death or permanent injury more than once. In the first 30% of my life I would have thought such a statement crackpot nonsense. Now at nearly 75 I wish, really wish, I had known at 20 that going for medical treatment is a very high risk activity - sometimes necessary, but yeah, risky. ... For those with a morbid interest in how things medical can go wrong, try this: Thor May (2017) "The Penis Chronicles". Thor's Korea Diary @  [Quote: "This is not a story for everyone. But as Mao Zedong once almost said, men's penises hold up half the sky, so there is some interest in the subject. If you want advice on blue pills, penis stretchers, and all the other paraphernalia of fragile male egos, look elsewhere. This is a tale of medical misadventure in a South Korean provincial hospital (though it could probably have happened anywhere), and perhaps a small warning about what can happen when even well-intentioned medicos start to play with your dongle".]

Gary Null et al (2010) "Death By Medicine" Serenesai website @  [Thor comment: This PDF copy contains a major bit of research which has become quite famous in a grim way. The statistic recorded at time of publication, 2010 - that medical treatment is the largest cause of death in America - remains true. It is true not only in USA but worldwide. Medical treatment is, of course, necessary from time to time, but it is high risk. Take care. Do your homework. Don't surrender responsibility for your own survival to a doctor. For him, you are a statistic]

Matthew Jenkin (18 April 2016) "Risk in business: does he who dares really win? - An impulse towards risk taking can help entrepreneurs seize opportunities under stress, but resilience, optimism and timing are just as important." The Guardian @  [Thor, comment: Most estalished businesses of any size are led by managers, not entrepreneurs. My own observation of managers as a species is that most of them are anything but risk takers. Do you agree?]

John Kamensky (September 7, 2017) "When are managers willing to take risks?" Govloop website @  [Quote: "Managers in both high-performing and low-performing organizations tend to be risk takers. They probably feel they have little to lose by trying something new. In contrast, managers in stable, middle-of-the-road organizations tend to be risk-averse and do not want to rock the boat by taking risks"]

José MaríaDíez et al (2019) "Are religion and culture relevant for corporate risk-taking? International evidence".
BRQ Business Research Quarterly, Volume 22, Issue 1, January–March 2019, Pages 36-55 @  [Abstract : "Using a large sample of firms from 37 countries over the period of 2007–2015, we empirically analyse the impact of religion and national culture characteristics on the level of corporate risk-taking around the world and the channels through which this can take place. First, we initially observe that different religious backgrounds have different impacts on corporate risk-taking, these being negative for Catholic and Islamic-based countries and positive for firms in Protestant nations. Secondly, we observe that companies in countries with high scores of power distance, masculinity, individualism and long-term orientation tend to increase risk-taking while high levels of uncertainty avoidance moderates corporate risk-taking behavior. We also show results that in companies where institutional investors are the most relevant reference shareholder the influence of religion on corporate risk-taking is not felt, unlike when the main shareholder is an individual or a family"].

Marvin Zuckerman (November 1, 2000) "Are You a Risk Taker? - What causes people to take risks? It's not just a behavior. It's a personality". Psychology Today @ 

=> Bryn Williams
This was one of Hofstede's key attributes in his study for IBM a one of the first ventures into globalisation. To what extent to do social cultural 'norms' effect the 'culture' of an organisation? Of course at some levels obviously - a western company trying to establish in a muslim had better be aware of behavioural norms. However it does go deeper - is security the long term objective - or risk ( the understanding there maybe a potentially harmful and unknown outcome) allow for the chance to be taken. Hofstede determined this is significantly different in various cultures. Asians are notorious gamblers but are very long term strategists in business. Western businesses are usually looking for short term results based on financial reporting but have been poor in long term strategy. ( There is no manufacturer of flat screen technology in the US now it has all been outsourced for a short term economic benefit) .

=> Thor
Yes Bryn. Of course there are all kinds of wrinkles on 'Western' and 'Asian', let alone 'Muslim', 'Catholic', 'Protestant'. Should we add 'Communist'? Actually 'Communist' in the Xi Jinping version is really a kind of National Socialism (the theorists in Germany's 3rd Reich would have recognized it, without the rabid racist overtones and jackboots). At its best this kind of National Socialism can and has achieved wonders for achieving long term goals in very big systems. At the top of the technocratic tree in China there are some very bright people. But risk taking generally isn't their strong suit except for carefully discussed, calculated risks. Also, locally the district committee and management, in my experience, never had a Plan B. Small fish dare not take planning risks (corruption is something else). Everything had to be referred upwards. Incidentally, South Korea runs in much the same way.


Webex Notes

a) Webex is available to use directly in your browser, or can be downloaded to Windows 10, Apple O/S, Android or Apple phones. You don't have to join Webex to participate. However if you join (free) you can get a personal login and test your microphone & video before the meetup.

b) To participate in the Lunchtime Seminar Online you will have to paste in a meetup code and password on Webex. These will become visible on your app after you RSVP.

c) We are limiting the online meetup to 8 people per session. After 8 RSVPs, people go onto a waitlist. If you decide not to come, cancel quickly so that anyone waiting can be notified to attend. If there is a lot of interest, we might be able to run another session at a different time/date.

d) Webex (unlike Zoom) has no time limit)

e) People attending can make a $2 donation in Australia using PAY ID. All the major banks in Australia have PAY ID if you activate it. To send me money, the banking app with PAY ID will ask for my phone number: 0479 154 831 . This is important to me because in August I will have to pay AUD$160 for use of the website (a twice yearly bill).

f) If you are not in South Australia, remember that in Adelaide we operate on Central Australian Time (11 a.m.)

g) Before the meetup, MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A COPY OF THE FOCUS QUESTIONS BELOW TO LOOK AT WHILE YOU ARE IN THE WEBEX PROGRAM. It is best to print them out. I don't want to waste time having to read these out to people during the meetup.


Adelaide Lunchtime Seminar

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Convenor : Thor May Personal website (legacy)
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ONLINE - Too Risky! .. or Who Dares Wins? (c) Thor May 2020 

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