Big RisksPrashant Vaishampayan
Big risks are easy to underestimate because they come from small risks that multiply.
Big risks are easy to overlook because they’re just a chain reaction of small events, each of which is easy to shrug off. A bunch of mundane things happen at the right time, in the right order, and multiply into an event that might look impossible if you only view the final outcome in isolation. Math is hard, but exponential math is deceiving.
Covid is the same. A virus shutting down the global economy and killing millions of people seemed remote enough for most people to never contemplate. Before a year ago it sounded like the one-in-billions freak accident only seen in movies.
But break the last year into smaller pieces.
A virus transferred from animal to human (has happened forever) and those humans interacted with other people (of course). It was a mystery for a while (understandable) and bad news was likely suppressed (political incentives, don’t yell fire in a theatre). Other countries thought it would be contained (exceptionalism, standard denial) and didn’t act fast enough (bureaucracy, lack of leadership). We weren’t prepared (common over-optimism) and the reaction to masks and lockdowns became heated (of course) so as to become sporadic (diversity, same as ever). Feelings turned tribal (standard during an election year) and a rush to move on led to premature reopenings (standard denial, the inevitability of different people experiencing different realities).
Each of those events on their own seems obvious, even common. But when you multiply them together you get something surprising, even unprecedented. Big risks are always like that, which makes them too easy to underestimate. How starkly we have been reminded over the last year.
Source: Morgan Housel