Wisdom From South Park

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31 March 2009
Craig Weber

Fans of the TV cartoon South Park were treated to a comical scene this week that resonated with me. The episode raises an intriguing question: Can there be rational thought behind some of the decisions being made about the economy and financial institutions?

Stan (a normal kid from Colorado, for those of you who don’t watch) sneaks into the U.S. Treasury offices. He’s wondering how Treasury officials make decisions about saving troubled institutions, and here is what he sees: One official chops the head off a chicken and throws the bird onto a giant horizontal wheel sectioned off in bright colors, with each section labeled as a potential option. Another official spins the wheel. A third takes out a kazoo and performs circus music while the bird lurches around crazily, spewing blood. When the headless bird finally expires, the space on which it falls lights up with a game show flourish of beeps and the decision is made: “BAILOUT!”

I’m quite certain that Treasury officials have other tools at their disposal. (Ping pong ball lottery machines instead of chickens?) But the broader point is that there are so many unknowns right now that we might as well be using the chicken method. We simply don’t know where this is all going.

At Celent, we’ve been blogging and writing and speaking about related issues for several months. But for me, there are at least as many questions now as when the crisis began in the fall. So what’s an insurer to do? First of all, don’t focus on the unknowns, as they will drive you crazy. Second, keep doing the things that seemed like good ideas before this all began. Invest in technology, improve your infrastructure, and keep asking questions about how you can make things better for customers and agents. Finally, don’t get too caught up in the prognostication. As anyone who grew up in the country can attest, chickens are surprisingly resilient, even minus their heads.

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