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Discourse Disrupters: Allison Schrager on risk and reason

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Economist Allison Schrager was the featured speaker in John Donvan's new Intelligence Squared series called "Discourse Disrupters." 

She says “risk-taking is vital to our personal and professional growth, and our economic growth …but it isn’t an all or nothing proposition.”

Schrager says we can make better decisions if we understand risk, uncertainty and ambiguity.

“We have a lot of biases,” she points out. “We want to believe something is certain because it reinforces our biases.” This happens in business, in personal life and in every aspect of living, she says. 

“It’s important to talk to people with different viewpoints because they can help us make better risk assessments,” she says. “This is because they have that different point of view of what could go wrong — or right.”

Other people, she adds, have different experiences and different knowledge and “you’re only living in your own reality.” You don’t always have all the facts you need, she says.

Allison Schrager is an economist and journalist. She studies retirement finance, which she says is basically “the study of risk, but the lessons can be applied anywhere.”

“We associate risk with danger,” Schrager said. “We don’t associate risk with progress or getting what we want. But really the reason you want to take a risk is you want to get something out of it … But you need to be thoughtful in what you’re taking a risk for.”

Schrager teaches at NYU and is a co-founder of the risk advisory firm, Life Cycle Finance Partners. 

She spoke this summer with John Donvan of Intelligence Squared US about the ideas in her new book, “An Economist Walks Into a Brothel.”