Inside Track

Possibilities and Probabilities

Possibilities and Probabilities

By Eric P. Harding

I have an admission that may lose me some credibility among my esteemed readers—I like to gamble. If the Powerball jackpot grows to a size that merits coverage in the national media, you can be sure I’ll buy a ticket. I enjoy the buzz and bustle of the casino floor. And my rooting interest in my hometown sports teams is amplified if I have something on the line. (One of this magazine’s department editors was the beneficiary of the Cleveland Indians’ collapse in the World Series last year.)

But it’s not just the moment of winning a bet that I enjoy. From the moment I lay my money down, the future has two possible paths—I win or I lose. And during this period of dual possibilities, I’m free to imagine what the world would look like after my horse comes in.

Yes, it’s the period between making a wager and seeing whether it pays off that’s exciting. That frisson of the unexpected is worth the price of admission for me, and there’s a bit of that in each of this issue’s features. They all imagine possible futures—how the world may look tomorrow based on an informed examination of today’s environment.

In “A Rigged Game?” (page 22), Carlos Fuentes takes a look at the current U.S. health care landscape. Using the principles of game theory, this feature examines how human nature may drive the health insurance reform discussion. After delineating the stakeholders—the players—Fuentes analyzes how these players interact strategically, examines the current marketplace—the game—and draws some conclusions about possible mid- and long-term outcomes.

The headlines are full of stories touting the benefits of technological advancements. But what unforeseen results of these new technologies should we be considering? In “Dollars and Sense” (page 28), Shiraz Jetha explores how advancements in the fields of automation and robotics could change the labor market forever. In such an environment, he argues, we may need to change how we think about several fundamental economic ideas: money, labor, and leisure. The piece discusses a concept called universal basic income—the idea that a government provides a sustenance-level stipend to all citizens—and lays out potential positives and drawbacks to such a scheme.

We shop quite differently today than we did even 10 years ago. Online retail, targeted marketing, pop-up boutiques—today’s marketplace has become more personalized and on-demand. Could insurance offerings follow suit? In “Insurance as Experience—A New Paradigm” (page 34), Shivathsan Karanai Margan examines how that shift is already underway. Insurers are looking at ways to differentiate their offerings and add value for their customers, he argues, and they’re increasingly positioning themselves as helpful partners rather than faceless financial entities.

Our final feature, “Too Much Data” (page 42), looks at how companies are using the surge of new consumer data to help make strategic business decisions—and how that process can sometimes go awry. Big Data is a useful tool, argues author Kurt Wrobel, but as with any tool, care needs to be taken to ensure it’s used appropriately. Rather than blindly trust the practitioners of this emerging science, companies would be wise to remember that old-fashioned precepts like teamwork, effective management, and strategic alignment are always fundamental keys to business success.

This issue also contains a new department. International Corner will take a look beyond our borders so we can learn from other nations’ experiences as we attempt to improve our systems. The inaugural series begins with “Insights From Worldwide Health Care Systems—An Introduction” (page 64), which lays out a framework of data exploration. Future articles will look at various countries’ health care systems and outcomes; could we improve our system by learning what works elsewhere in the world?

Thanks, as ever, for reading. I bet you’ll find something in this issue worth sharing.

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