Applying ‘hungry lion algorithm’ in career and life

You are in a savannah forest enjoying a cool evening. Just a few steps away you see the grass trembling in front of you; They suspect it might be a lion. dr Neil de Grasse Tyson outlines a hungry lion algorithm in his book Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization:

  • They decide to check if it’s a lion moving the grass. In fact it was a lion and a hungry one. you will be dead
  • They check if the breeze shakes the grass. Turns out it’s a no-brainer. If you continue the behavior, you will eventually die.
  • You think there’s a lion in the grass. So you run and survive.
  • You think it’s a lion and you run, but it’s just the wind that makes the grass shake. Still you survive.

Behavioral scientists and neuroscientists keep repeating that we react just like our ancestors did half a million years ago and trust our primal instincts more than anything else.

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In other words, when we encounter an angry boss or a problematic situation, we behave the way our ancestors behaved when they saw a lion. We run to save ourselves.

Are we inevitably hardwired to respond with only primal instincts?

Experts are urging people to stop, question, and respond appropriately to the danger in front of them, rather than letting the reptilian parts of their brains react.

No matter how dangerous your boss is, she can’t kill you. The same applies to most of these situations.

Ways to mitigate risk

Large organizations, financial institutions, and software companies have risk mitigation experts who help senior management teams understand the risks and benefits of different options, such as pursuing a specific customer or a specific product line. They even buy insurance coverage to mitigate risks against losses. These save the organizations from the “hungry lions”.

However, it is not easy for individuals to make decisions. Wrong relationships, career and investment decisions can have lifelong repercussions.

If you want to leave a high-paying corporate job and start a startup, the “grass” in this case is happiness and success. The lion might be the statistic that 90% of startups around the world fail.

When you face the lion, you only have one life. But the modern man’s savannah jungle – his life and career – is as bountiful as a video game. Each game offers a limited number of lives. And often your age determines how many lives you have.

For example, investment gurus urge you not to make risky investments in old age. In other words, don’t even check the weed, run away from risks. In addition, as people age, they take fewer risks. For example, you won’t find people in their 50s who have invested in cryptocurrency.

An age to take risks

Chinese billionaire Jack Ma advised youngsters in their 20s and 40s to make diverse career choices and explore entrepreneurial skills. You can take advantage of the many opportunities that life offers you. If you’re in your 50s, he advises mentoring teens so they can check the “lawn.” More easily put, the recommendation is probably asking you to watch gladiator sport rather than being a gladiator.

When will you check the weed and take risks? When will you run away from the lion and survive another day?

Everyone has a low, high, or moderate risk tolerance level, which can vary for different areas of life. Someone might be reluctant to climb a hill for fear of falling, but could have invested a large chunk of their income in cryptocurrency.

Single Instance Bias

It is important to understand whether risk appetite was formed by single-instance bias. It causes you to form opinions based on a single event in your life or the lives of others.

There are people who stayed away from the stock market after losing money during the 2008 financial crisis. At work, someone might be reluctant to give ideas because their colleague’s ideas have been criticized by top management. A critical examination of this bias could help you decide whether the risk is real or perceived.

The consequence of the risk

Every action has intended and unintended consequences. When the consequences of your action can be long-lasting, you need to weigh your action carefully to recognize the possibility of unintended consequences that may have escaped your attention.

If your actions can be perceived as risky by people, you’d better avoid them. If you are an investment banker, try to avoid being seen at the race track or casino.

The example of man in the jungle speaks only of man in his natural state. In such a situation, modern man can arm himself with a gun or a tranquilizer and mitigate his risks. The point: you have to and can be prepared and have options.

(The author is a management consultant)

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