Using the Right Metaphors

Metaphor for strategy

[metaphor for strategy]

I worked in and around insurance and financial services for fifteen years. During those years, I gained a deeper understand of the distinction between risk and uncertaintyUncertainty and risk are concepts in economics and the stock market.

The concepts are related, but not the same. You cannot avoid risk, every act of creation involves it. Even not doing anything has a risk component. But you can learn to move away from uncertainty, especially when you're called to make important decisions.

Metaphors structure the way we talk, but they also impact the way we think. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance.

Mike Elias has a useful framework to compare two different and conflicting metaphors of our age: facts and risk. But first an idea or a thesis put forth by Taleb: rationality-as-risk-management. 

The most useful concept from the comparison of metaphor of facts (Wittgenstein's Revenge) with metaphor of risk management is that the latter implies

beliefs are investments, requiring due diligence
as a practical necessity.


This is brilliant because it frees us from believing today's prevailing opinions (or those in our bubble) is a moral imperative. Instead, it invites us to weigh the risks of being mistaken against the rewards of being correct.

Risk management, metaphorically speaking, is also pro-science. True scientific thinking is about updating knowledge as new information we can prove comes along. Right and wrong are not absolutes, wrote Isaac Asimov. 

The value of this idea is that it uncovers the veil of “certainty” illusion, thus reducing the psychological vulnerabilities created by the expectation of certainty—e.g., propaganda, tribalism, and social division. 

Good-faith discourse is another positive outcome of using risk management as our metaphor. “Credulity is the new skepticism” is an interesting twist. If we had used that attitude more in January/February 2020, we could have saved many, many lives… and trillions. 

Are we asking, “what if I'm wrong?” enough? I worry we never ask, “what if the prevailing worldview is wrong?” When we fail to ask that, that's when we stay stuck as a society, or a company. 


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