Grant by Ron Chernow
We need to return to the good old days; things are only getting worse. Will they ever get better? Doom and gloom – a pervasive perspective today for many people, whether it be about the ag economy, environment, incomes and standard of living, trade wars or political debates/discourse.
Norberg challenges this belief with a historical perspective supported by data and interesting “stories”. His themes of global food and food security (starvation), poverty, sanitation and health, life expectation, violence and conflict, the environment, literacy, equality and discrimination, and concern for future generations paint a picture that, although we still have challenges, there has been great improvement in these areas. It would be a real mistake to return to ‘the good old days’. “Contrary to what most of us believe, our progress over the past few decades has been unprecedented. By almost any index you can identify, things are markedly better now than they have ever been for almost everyone alive.” If you need an uplifting read to support the conclusion that ‘the good old days’ are now, read Progress.
Recently, I read a New York Times commentary by David Leonhardt entitled Politics as a Lifesaver. This commentary made a reference that led me to Steven Johnson’s How Humanity Gave Itself an Extra Life article in the New York Times Magazine. Johnson’s article is a fascinating lesson on how scientists develop technical expertise, but it is the ability to persuade the community through political and social mechanisms that really influences and changes society, which is extremely relevant to many of today’s critical issues.
Strategy is about making choices, often while facing a great deal of uncertainty. As decision makers, we tend to limit our choices when facing uncertainty as fear of the unknown can be paralyzing. However, limiting choices also limits chances of being successful. When teaching decision making, I try to help industry professionals realize that the best alternative they can identify is one that they have identified. Can you see the juxtaposition of our desire to limit our choices under uncertainty, but at the same time, realizing we have to think of good solutions, which often requires identifying more instead of less?
I often say that in Purdue University’s Agricultural Economics department comprised of over 30 faculty members, I’m the only one who isn’t an economist; I’m a behaviorist. I came to ag econ late in life after a career in management, and I haven’t worked a day since. I love the field of behavior and understanding how human brains make decisions. Jonah Berger, author of The Catalyst: How to Change Anyone’s Mind, is a faculty member at Wharton, and he is really, probably the me I would like to be. A true behaviorist with a PhD from Stanford, he’s written several terrific books on behavior, mostly in a business context. You may be familiar with his other best-selling book, Contagious: Why Things Catch On.