Sunday, September 13, 2020

Book Review: Winning Conditions by Christine Hofbeck

I remember my initial reaction when I heard that there was going to be an actuary on Survivor. 

"She'll probably win."  I said, without hesitating. 

And I remember the stunned look of my coworker, who was struggling to imagine the cube dwelling nerds she knew trying to endure the rigor of a survival based game.

I had no idea who Christine was. And perhaps I was a bit overconfident and biased about the skills of my fellow actuaries. Although, I think my gut reaction was well founded. 

  1. Many actuaries make a career out of working with life and death statistics, and all of us studied survival curves along the way, so the subject is in our blood.  
  2. I had played poker (and another elaborate card game that was different each time you play) against other actuaries, and had witnessed the shrewdness with which they play. 
  3. The fact that the TV show thought she'd be worth being on camera signaled to me that she probably had some moxie. 
  4. I knew she'd be the underdog, which would give her an competitive edge. She'd be out to prove something and the other competitors would underestimate her.
Winning Conditions will give you a closer look at this puzzle loving, adventure seeking and charismatic actuary, but it is so much more than that. This book could save humanity.

There is a secret magical ingredient in this book that unites every strategy Christine presents. I started reading Winning Conditions assuming it would be about my own skill set. And certainly, that is present in the research and anecdotes Christine shares. (My favorite story involved a gray duck sweater.)

But along the way, I started to see a pattern (after all I am an actuary). 

The secret ingredient to Winning Conditions is....[SPOILER] other people. As Christine might put it, our fellow humans with human brains.

You can't have Winning Conditions without:
  • Understanding how and why people react to things
  • Appreciating the experiences and perspectives of others
  • Building a coalition of support
  • Creating moments of engagement
We live in an environment right now filled with narratives of people attacking each other. This will never be Winning Conditions. They way will forward will not be at the expense of someone else. We need empathy, compassion, and tolerance. These are the virtues Christine presents in Winning Conditions. Chapter 1 covers conscious awareness and Chapter 11 is about kindness and integrity.  I believe that Winning Conditions is the recipe for a better future for us all. So, Christine, will you run for president? Please!

I hope this book becomes part of the admissions course of the Society of Actuaries. If not, I recommend it as a gift to anyone passing their last exam. 

Let's look at a few ways in which I deem a book recommendable. 
  1. Will I read it again? Yes. Not because it was too dense to comprehend (looking at you Taleb), but because there are some good nuggets I want to revisit. +1
  2. Did I dog ear/highlight different sections? Yes! I have several places where I found the book inspiring or informative. +10
  3. How much effort is it to digest the material? I felt the radiance of Christine's smile come through the pages of the text. It is charming and accessible. I got through it in a weekend. +5
  4. Is it applicable/actionable?  Very much so. +5
  5. How many emotions did I feel? In fiction I love I will laugh or cry or get scared or some mixture of all those things.  It is rare to have this in nonfiction. I felt anger (from a scene in which Christine is harassed), lots of joy, and most of all inspiration and hope.  +4
Total Score: 25 points.  The minimum qualifier for recommendation is 20 points, so no surprise, Winning Conditions makes the cut!

To conclude, I'll leave you with this inspirational video that takes us through her path to 4 immunity wins.

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