Connect the dots across domains or paradigm. Navigate the paradigms.

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Tip 51 “Connect the dots across domains or paradigms. So read different types of books, talk to different groups of people and go to different places. Go to the heart of the problem by talking to people who really know the issues. Navigate the paradigms.”

This is a most important skill in an increasingly complex world. It is at the heart of a multi-disciplinary approach to problem-solving.

The word paradigm was first popularised by the physicist and philosopher Thomas Kuhn in the book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”.

Given my nature and training, I have always been curious about other domains and paradigms. I have an inclination for contextual thinking. Problems (or opportunities) are defined by contexts, and very often they change in nature when we redefine or change the context. By changing the context, we can see the problems in a new light. And other points of view and new solutions are likely to emerge. Creating the space for this to happen is an art.

Consequently, one can then join the dots across paradigms.

I first learnt the word “paradigm” in the 1990s, from a customer service guru, when we were improving the customer service and culture in Prudential Singapore in the mid-1990s. The customer guru said that to change the culture radically you got to change the paradigms (the beliefs, the rules, the operating principles) in which the people are working in. Seldom will the people who are at the heart of the existing paradigms able to revolutionise existing practices – at best they can improve it incrementally. This is so because they have complete vested interests in the existing paradigms. The challenge has to come from people outside or at the margin of paradigms.

This is true in all the change management efforts I know.

Here are three examples of how this principle operates

  • Cultural change in organisations
  • The IFoA’s VSMD (Vision, Skillsets, Mindsets and Domains) Strategy
  • The actuarial profession’s public interest role

Part I – Cultural change in organisations

In the transformation of organisations, we will normally expect to see changes at the top of an organisation as part of renewal and reinvention. Especially with a new CEO.  The paradigms of the organisation are created by existing power structures to support its practices and beliefs. To change the existing paradigms, you have to change the existing power structures.

Most simple, tame, and complicated problems can be solved within existing paradigms – this is often about incremental change. To solve complex problems and create transformational change, leaders need to change or shift paradigms. Leaders will need clarity of purpose, courage, and humanity to tackle these. Such leaders are rare.

Part II –  The IFoA’s VSMD (Vision, Skillsets, Mindsets and Domains) Strategy

The VSMD strategy calls for a multi-disciplinary approach to problem-solving because the nature of the problems we are facing are increasingly complex. The boundaries defining the systems and industries we work in are being impacted by changes inspired by the digital revolution as well as other sources of systemic risks or radical uncertainty.

In the new digital world, problem-solving in life, general, and health insurance and pensions will require us to know data collecting and underwriting, the way benefits are framed and delivered, claims assessed, pricing best optimised and the whole experience is put together will be completely different from the pre-digital world.

This is not just about data science and machine learning. It is also about understanding digital ecosystems, behavioural psychology, genetics, robots, new economics, climate science and a whole range of disciplines. To bring problem-solving to bear we have to adopt a multi-disciplinary approach because most of the innovation will happen at the intersection of disciplines. We need to connect the dots across the various disciplines to create effective and meaningful answers.

Part III – The actuarial profession’s public interest role

The IFoA’s recent Finance and Public Interest Seminar series made it clear that we have to join the dots across many paradigms if you want to understand why Finance is not serving the public interest today.

This is unmasked by Global Financial Crisis GFC in 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic crisis, numerous financial and accounting scandals and sustainability challenges and the risk transfers we are seeing in the financial services.

The following points are relevant

  • Our public interest and policy role is not just a question of giving feedback to regulators pertaining to insurance, pension and risk management products and systems.
  • Existing products and pension schemes operate within our regulatory paradigms and frameworks.
  • These frameworks also define the role of corporations and the role of professions.
  • Currently, there is too much conflict of interest, benchmarking and the pursuit of growth in corporations.
  • Our regulatory paradigms are created out of economic systems, beliefs, contexts, and political beliefs.
  • The economic context of Anglo-Saxon societies in the years 1980s to 2010 was “market knows is best” and “self-interest or greed is good” – this largely drove the Washington consensus –and rest on the relentless pursuit of growth of share price as a proxy of value
  • This philosophy is based on the supremacy of individualism and free markets over collective interest and planned economies. Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand were the apostles and this prevailed in the Anglo-Saxon world in those decades.
  • To redress this, we have to re-balance back to the collective interest. This means the importance of shared purpose and values, reciprocity, and mutuality.
  • Another parallel development is the development of modern financial economics which rests on an atomic and analytical approach the problem solving as opposed to a systems and consilience approach to problem-solving.
  • This is a big systemic wicked problem and to unpack and change it requires each of us to change ourselves and engage in the battle of ideas.

Clearly, this is not just about actuarial science. It touches on political philosophy, comparative culture, ethics, evolutionary psychology, anthropology, history of science and mathematics, comparative culture and the drive to quantitative analysis which began during the age of enlightenment in the 17th century.

61 TIPS for Young Actuaries

1. Congratulations on becoming an actuary. It is the beginning of life-long learning.

2. The first principle of success is constancy of purpose

3. The second principle is drive, focus and determination.

4. Imagine what is possible with your life.

5. Success is inevitable to the person with unlimited enthusiasm. Read Napoleon Hill’s “Law of Success”.

6. If you face challenges or failures, regard them as learning opportunities. Never give up.

7. Develop the art of speaking well in public. Dale Carnegie’s book on “Developing Self Confidence in Public Speaking” is still the best around.

8. Have a strategy on your career. Pursue it with passion. Passion is at the heart of excellence.

9. Take ownership of your work. Go the extra mile for the work you are given.

10. Be Responsible. As a person and in all the roles you take on.

11. Always prepare. If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.

12. Be the solution to the problem. Do not be the problem.

13. Be the go-to person in your workplace. This is not difficult. Use C.A.D.I.F. – Committed, Attention to Detail and Immediate Follow Up – this is from Mark McCormack’s “What they do not teach you at Harvard Business School”.

14. Be a pioneer. Be bold. Without courage, there will be no progress.

15. Travel and work elsewhere. It will help you understand we are all different and we are all the same.

16. Have a a financial savings program. You are as rich as you save, not as you earn.

17. Acquire assets not liabilities. Learn to say no to stuff which do not matter. Simplify your life.

18. Do not time the market. It is time in the market that matters.

19. Start early, invest monthly via dollar cost or value-based averaging in a diversified portfolio.

20. Do not forget term life and health insurance for yourself and family.

21. Economically, your job is your greatest asset. Treasure it and invest in it.

22. Be quick to say sorry and take responsibility. Do not cover up. Be authentic. Always.

23. Engage your colleagues. Do not avoid your bosses, and do not forget the cleaners and receptionists.

24. When investigating a subject or solving a problem, look at different angles. Always turn the page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddamned page.

25. You are an actuary. You must do your work with care and competence. Understanding the problem is more important than getting to the answer.

26. Live your actuaries code – all the time. Be a credit to your profession

27. Volunteer to do things for others; the community, the profession or the workplace. Be helpful, kind and generous.

28. Have a sense of humour.

29. Challenge the consensus and groupthink. Do it with respect and humility.

30. Read Frank Redington’s papers, in particular, The Flock and the Sheep. Read past presidential addresses. Also, Craig Turnbull’s History of Actuarial Thought. This will give you a flavour of our profession.

31. If your workplace is not right for you, leave. It is better to act early rather than late. You are more independent than you think.

32. Make notes. Carry notebooks with you. Be inspired by Leonardo da Vinci.

33. Stay curious – curiosity opens up windows and make you a more interesting person. Read Steve Jobs’s “Stay Hungry Stay Foolish” commencement address.

34. Invest time in Quadrant 2 activities. Things which are important but not yet urgent. Read Steven Covey’s “7 Habits of Effective People”. It is still one of the best books on personal development and leadership.

35. Learn new skills every year. Spend at least five hours a week on learning new skills. On social media, on languages, on programming languages, on new technologies. Stay current on data science and machine learning.

36. Read widely – at last one good book a month. Any book, which gets your attention. Of relevance to our profession are those on digital and biotechnologies, social platforms, new economics, culture, behavioural finance and genetics.

37. It is not only about knowledge. The real voyage of discovery is seeing things with new eyes. Question the paradigms you operate in. Read Gillian Tett’s ‘Silo Effect”.

38. Have mentors, coaches and guides. Be guided by the stars of the night and not the lights of each passing ship.

39. Jim Collins said, “Good is the enemy of great. It is just so easy to settle for a good life.” Do not settle for a good life. Settle for a great life.

40. Your partner in life. This is probably your most important decision. Use your head wisely. And your heart.

41. Take a long sabbatical. You can do this in-between jobs. Take a second degree, which is very different from your first, if you can.

42. Spend time with your family. Children, siblings and parents. This is precious.

43. Make your message compelling. Never give a speech unless you have something meaningful to say.

44. Read Lynda Gratton’s “The 100 – Year Life” and Herminia Ibarra’s “Working Identity”. These will help you in designing your increasingly long life.

45. Treasure your health. Have an exercise regime. Every day. Get a gym or yoga trainer, or any other trainer.

46. Sleep well. Sleep helps us improve our concentration and productivity. And enhances our immune system.

47. Always be engaged. This means listening and paying attention.

48. Always be engaging. This means speaking to the person and not at the person.

49. Understand culture. Culture is the game in town.  The rest are sideshows.

50. The internet has democratised knowledge. Curate your own digital library. But be focused! Social media is part of life – use it.

51. Connect the dots across domains or paradigms. So read different types of books, talk to different groups of people and go to different places. Go to the heart of the problem by talking to people who really know the issues. Navigate the paradigms.

52. Care about is happening in our world. Make a difference. Remember Redington, who is probably the greatest actuary in the last 100 years, said, “An actuary who is only an actuary is not an actuary.”

53. Your spiritual and inner lives are paramount. Do yoga, prayer or meditation.

54. Do not lose force on distractions and irritations.

55. Your attention is your greatest resource. Use and direct your attention wisely. Understand narrow and wide attention. Read Marion Milner’s “A Life of One’s Own.” It is revelatory.

56. Most of us are mechanical and asleep most of the time. Wake up. Waking up means mindfulness and walking into a space of self-awareness.

57. We have a choice on how we want to respond to others and external events. Read Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning.” Only human beings can do this. Use this gift.

58. Keep a journal. Journaling refreshes our purpose.

59. Sir Francis Bacon said, “I hold every man a debtor to his profession; from the which as men, of course, do seek to receive countenance and profit, so ought they of duty to endeavour themselves by way of amends to be a help and ornament thereunto.” Be a help and ornament to your profession.

60. We live in a world of uncertainty. Use judgement, not models.

61. COVID-19 is unmasking the precarity of the world. Use your influence to help create a better world.