Have you ever heard of Nicholas (“Nicky”) Winton? Me neither. That was before I attended a screening of Nicky’s Family, at the UJA Federation in New York on July 16th. The movie is about Nicky, and why he is otherwise known as the English Oskar Schindler. Like Schindler, Nicky saved lives — that of 669 Czech and Slovak children just before and during World War II. Seeing that movie made me realize we all are, in some sense, in Nicky’s family. So what? Well, maybe his story will cast doubt on the selfish gene theory that many economists rely on in their rational choice models. At least that’s what I thought when I saw the movie.
Before the war, Nicky, now 104 years old, was a successful stockbroker in London. He traveled when he wanted. He ate what we wanted. He didn’t really have a concern in the world. So he was the perfect character in a story who would have had an interest in doing nothing at the sight of other people’s suffering.
After learning about the pending doom that Jewish Czech and Slovak children would face under German rule when he took a ski trip to Europe, Nicky started a campaign to have English families adopt Jewish children. When some Rabbis in England complained to Nicky that the children would be going to non-Jewish families, his response: “that’s your problem!”
The screening of the movie, which was chaired by Sanders/Long partner Adam R. Sanders, made me question the self-interested rational choice models that so many economists use. Nicky had everything to lose by helping the children. His only gain was the feeling of seeing that he had an impact on each child in need. And that he did. The movie shows that some 200 of the saved children have been found, and shows their grandchildren, too. Not only that, but Nicky has motivated a whole new generation of people who are trying to make an impact on the world — one child at a time.
Nicky Winton — arriving just in the Nick of time.
As reported in U.S. Rolled Dice in Bin Laden Raid, the green light to eliminate Mr. Osama Bin Laden eventually came down to “gut instinct.” While we all understand the role of numbers and rational thought in business decision making, we think that the West sometimes places too little emphasis on what can oftentimes be your best friend in uncertain times: your gut.
As we all know, there are times in business when the numbers tell the whole story. There is no gray area. There is no need to use your intuition to make a decision. And yet many decisions in business are not so black and white. For one thing, the numbers may be cooked by the seller of the stock you are thinking about buying. You may not know this by looking at the numbers, but may intuit it by feeling out the underwriter or broker. Like the Navy SEALS in the picture to the left, your eyes may not see anything behind those trees in your midst, but sometimes your intuition will tell you something is lurking there. Unfortunately, the West sometimes places too much emphasis on rational thought, and not enough on the value of intuition, a point that Mr. Nassim Nicholas Taleb makes in The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. Perhaps this is because of a reductionistic approach to studying decision making taught by many schools in the West, including the Economics Department at the University of Chicago, which oftentimes attempts to reduce the complexity of human decision making into mathematical equations. While this may be a helpful crude tool to understand a complex system, it is is not sufficient. Due consideration also needs to be placed on the role of intuition — the gut — in making good decisions.
We are big fans of Patagonia’s products. So when we ran across Yosemite Sams, an article in the Journal, which talks about how Patagonia’s founder went from eating cat food out of cans to running one of the most successful outdoor clothing companies, we were excited.
As the image above shows, being on your own can be scary. This is especially true in today’s world, which is full of turmoil in the Middle East and the horrible events of Japan. And so the story of Mr. Yvon Chouinard going from eating cat food to running one of the most successful outdoor product companies in the world — Patagonia, which is now based in Oxnard, California — is well needed. His story, and those of others like him, is an inspiration to us all — especially those who are striking out on their own in these trying times.