Under Pressure: With Guests Svetlana Savranskaya, Gary Slaughter & Modupe Akinola

May 23, 2022
How can we make important decisions when time is scarce and the stakes are high?

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After you listen

How might the phenomena explored on Choiceology be impacting your personal finances and portfolio?

How might the phenomena explored on Choiceology be impacting your personal finances and portfolio?

If you've ever been faced with an important decision when time was scarce, information was incomplete, or tempers were running high, you'll know that it's difficult to make a good choice. Now imagine a decision that has implications for the entire world, and the people facing that decision are 500 feet below the surface of the ocean in a nuclear-armed diesel submarine that is overheating and running out of power.

In this episode of Choiceology with Katy Milkman, we look at decisions under pressure and how our thinking process is affected by stress.

We begin in the Sargasso Sea, just off the coast of Florida, in October 1962. It's the height of the Cold War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis is bringing the U.S. and the Soviet Union closer to open conflict. John F. Kennedy has ordered a naval "quarantine" around Cuba after the discovery of Soviet missile installations there, and the Soviets have responded by sending a squadron of submarines to the area. Those submarines were ill-equipped for the warm waters around Cuba, and the squadron had little to no contact with Moscow. And they were being hunted by the American navy. It was a recipe for disaster.

Dr. Svetlana Savranskaya tells the story of two of the Russian submariners in the fleet, one who demonstrates the dangers of making decisions under extreme pressure and the other who proves why it's best when cooler heads prevail.

Dr. Savranskaya is director of Russian programs at the National Security Archive at George Washington University.

You'll also hear an American perspective on this dangerous military interaction from a man who was there. Gary Slaughter served as a communications officer on the USS Cony during the Cuban Missile Crisis and is the author of Sea Stories: A Memoir of a Naval Officer.

Next, Dr. Modupe Akinola joins Katy to discuss the mechanics of decision-making under stress. You'll hear how your stress system prepares you to act but also suppresses your ability to think clearly. Dr. Akinola offers ideas on how to prepare yourself for decisions and minimize the negative effects of stress in her paper "Thriving Under Pressure."

Modupe Akinola is an associate professor of management at Columbia Business School, director at the Sanford C. Bernstein & Co. Center for Leadership & Ethics, and host of the TED Business podcast.

Finally, Katy presents useful advice on being decision-ready and avoiding the hot-headed choice.

Choiceology is an original podcast from Charles Schwab. 

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