Working In Uncertainty

Summary of reform themes

There are several reforms to our way of life that I would like to see happen, and try to promote when I can. They are summarised on this page.

Related to uncertainty

Focus on managing risk/uncertainty within core management activities

Nearly everyone thinks that managing risk as an integral part of core management activities is a better idea than having separate workshops, documents, and so on. Unfortunately, a lot of guidance and regulation written about risk management describes the separate form – even when the authors prefer an integrated approach in principle.

A lot of my work is dedicated to helping people gain a better understanding of what integral management of risk is like, in practice.

An end to Risk Listing

Risk Listing is not a good approach to managing risk and it would be great if it rapidly lost its influence. A first stage in this is to name Risk Listing as Risk Listing, not as Risk Management. The next stage is to revise all policies that make Risk Listing the only acceptable, or only required, approach to risk management. The next stage is to highlight alternatives and use them more. The final stage is to watch Risk Listing die a silent death, unloved and unused.

Just forget about 'risk appetite'

The phrase 'risk appetite' has never had a clear or useful meaning and nobody should bother to try to work out one. There are much more important things in risk management to work on.

Same for 'risk culture'

People should forget about trying to understand 'risk culture'. It's a buzz phrase with nothing clear or useful behind it. Instead, focus on persistent patterns of good and dysfunctional management behaviour. Those we can try to manage.

Less advocacy, more reasoning

Discussing things with people who just want to get their way is stressful and usually does not lead to good decisions or outcomes. Discussions based on reason, evidence, objectivity, and fairness, are more relaxing and more effective. I like a good discussion but I hate the typical debate.

More Bayesianism and less Frequentism

Defining probability purely in terms of frequencies is a bad idea and many people recognize that. Bayesianism, the logical approach to probability, is on the rise but I wish it was growing more quickly, with textbooks being replaced more quickly, scientific journals requiring only Bayesian statistical analyses, and modern Bayesian methods being taught as the main set of statistical tools in schools and universities. If Ronald Fisher had not been such an agressive and dogmatic man, defending Frequentism and attacking Bayesians relentlessly, much of this might have happened already.

A major step forward for Bayesian methods would be to revise the way they are normally explained and tidy up the notation. I think most explanations of Bayesianism are atrocious.

Clear maths please

More use of mathematics by more people would also benefit our species, but for that to happen we need a radical improvement in the quality of mathematical writing and in the design of mathematical notations.

Bayesian statistics for science

It's hard to believe that journals still want p values. This silly practice should have been stamped out decades ago. There should be simple, accepted Bayesian alternatives for all the usual tests.

Efficient science

Science is great, but a lot of it is more expensive and less useful than it could be. At the root of this is the almost complete failure to realise that efficiently gaining knowledge is the essence of science. Looking at science from the efficiency point of view reveals numerous ways to do it better.

Related to economics

Think about real resources, not just money

So much of modern economics focuses on money that people tend to forget that real resources, like land, water, food, and human labour are important. Rather than trying to understand how to control money, economists should understand what happens to resources, think about how the resources should be managed, and then design financial systems to promote the management strategies that work for real resources.

Focus on human labour

Of all the real resources, human labour is the most important to manage well. Economists, politicians, and journalists need to focus more on the scarce resource of human labour because the combination of our aging population and growing concern about fossil fuels are making labour more and more important.

As a society, we would be better off if we understood this very clearly. For example, we would then be more offended by behaviour that makes unnecessary work, such as vandalism, excessive consumption, and over-complicated tax laws. We would understand that Gross Domestic Product is not a good measure of economic health.

Focus on exergy, not energy

For practical purposes, exergy is more important than energy. Exergy is the useful work that can be done using some energy and it is not the same as energy. For example, a bath full of warm water contains a lot of energy in that warmth but it's virtually useless for doing work. In contrast, the same amount of energy in an electrical battery could run a gadget for quite some time.

We need to be exergy efficient, not energy efficient. Educating young technologists differently would help them invent the exergy efficient technologies we need for a sustainable society.

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Words © 2014 Matthew Leitch.