“Because if I Don’t I’ll Die”

Lawrie Tallack is now an actor which is a rare career progression when you consider that he was once a fighter pilot in the RAF. A veteran of the gulf war and 200 parachute jumps, Lawrie was no stranger to taking calculated risks!

One evening his Commanding Officer came in to warn them that they would be making a jump the next day from a high altitude balloon. “Don’t worry though boys” he said “it’s really not that different to what you’re used to. Just bear in mind that when you jump it really is a long way to fall before you open up.”

“And then he paused” Lawrie recalls “and seemed to relive a traumatic memory or something before reiterating that it really really was a long way to fall.”

For some reason, Lawrie went to sleep that night unnerved by what was intended as a pep talk! After hardly sleeping at all during the night, he went to his superiors and informed them that he could not bring himself to do the jump. In short, he refused.

In blackjack there is a (fairly common) situation in which you have 16 and the dealer has a 7 or higher showing. Given that you’re trying to make 21 without going bust only a 5 or lower will improve your hand. A 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, Jack, Queen or King will bust you. And yet the book (that is the guide to basic strategy which has been worked out according to the inexorable maths) tells you to hit – to take a card. It feels so counterintuitive. And yet the book is adamant: you must hit the hand. Why?

The bottom line is that you are in a terrible position there. Not as terrible as being in a plane hurtling to earth but you have 16 – the worst possible total – and the dealer has a 10 (let’s say). You are going to lose a lot of money in this situation on the average. The VALUE of this situation is negative. BUT you will lose LESS money in the long run than by standing pat. Yes you will bust yourself 8 times out of 13 but the times you will improve will win it for you enough times to outweigh those losses.

The point is that in everything we do we need to take a Long Term approach. Even though by hitting the 16 we may bust and it’s going to be painful, it is the right thing to do. Sometimes doing the right thing is hard. It will be painful. But it’s right because the alternative is MORE painful and therefore risky.

There are definitely risks we cannot afford to take. But there are also risks that we cannot afford not to take. And not taking any “risks” is the greatest risk of all.

After his refusal to obey an order, Lawrie’s disciplinary hearing was inevitable and effectively the conclusion was foregone. You can’t refuse to do a jump in the RAF. Loving his job and desperate not to lose it, Lawrie pointed to his exemplary record in the services, all of which they said had already been taken into consideration. They had – they said – his safety at heart:

“What if you were in a plane Tallack hurtling towards the ground at terminal velocity and had to eject hmmm? What would you do then? We have to know that you would put your safety first.”
“Well of course I would. I’d eject insisted Lawrie. But they were unconvinced.
“How? How do we know that?”

To Lawrie the answer seemed perfectly obvious. “Because I know that if I don’t… I’ll die!” He said.

Posted 11:00am by Caspar and filed in Decision Making, Risk

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