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该停手时就停手:及时止损的秘籍

更新时间:2018-10-4 10:34:43 来源:纽约时报中文网 作者:佚名

The trick to learning when to cut your losses
该停手时就停手:及时止损的秘籍

You’ve popped down the shops to pick up some milk. Halfway there you remember that this particular shop is actually closed on Sunday afternoons. And as far as you know, there are no others open nearby. Still, you’ve already spent 10 minutes walking in that direction, so you might as well at least finish your journey, right?

你突然赶着去买牛奶。走到一半的时候,想起来这家店礼拜天下午是不开门的。而且据你所知,附近的店都不开门。不过,你已经朝着那个方向走了10分钟,所以至少应该把路走完,对吗?

Unless you were already desperate to stretch your legs, this is a transparently stupid way of thinking. Yet, bizarrely, this illogical cognitive pattern is widespread in decision-making; often, involving choices with far higher stakes.

除非你真地很想活动活动筋骨,不然这种想法真是蠢得可以。但奇怪的是,这种不合逻辑的认知模式在我们的决策过程中非常普遍,而且往往是涉及高额投资的决策。

A gambler might call it chasing your losses. The British saying – ‘don’t throw good money after bad’ – captures a similar sentiment. Economists call it the sunk cost fallacy, and it’s ubiquitous.

一个赌徒可能会称之为要捞回本钱。英国有谚云“不要把钱来填无底洞”,说的也是类似意思。经济学家称之为沉没成本谬误,它无处不在。

We all do it. Ever gone to the cinema and stayed to the end of a film you actually loathed 10 minutes in – or watched yet another season of what was once your favourite TV show? This is the logic that says “I’ve sunk a lot of money into my old car. I can’t just scrap it now. I really should replace that faulty gearbox”. (See also: those who stay in bad relationships for several additional years because they don’t want their time together to have been ‘all for nothing’).

我们都会做这种事。去电影院,明明看了10分钟就不喜欢,却坚持看到剧终;或者已经不再喜欢的电视节目,却又看了一季?这就是"我在我的旧车上已经花了好多钱,舍不得现在就把它扔掉,我真的应该更换那个出了故障的变速箱"背后的逻辑。还有那些因为不想两人的关系“烂尾”,相处不来,却又数年不愿分手的人。

What links these examples is the phenomenon of continuing to throw good resources (time or money) after bad, hoping for things to improve when there’s no good reason to believe they will.

在这些例子背后,是这样一种现象,也就是把资源(时间或者金钱)投入到无底洞,希望情况会有起色,虽然并没有充分理由让人相信会发生这样的变化。

In other words, people are loath to cut their losses. We are much more likely to continue to senselessly plough time or money into a project that isn’t working out, in the hope that it will get better, than take a hit and walk away. What drives this is optimism (that, against the odds, the situation will improve) and an aversion to failure.

换句话说,人们无意止损。我们更乐于把时间或者金钱不明智地投入到一个不会有结果的项目上,心里期盼着它会改善,而不是遭受打击后走开。这背后的推动力是乐观情绪(尽管克服重重困难,但未来一片光明),以及对失败的厌恶。

Even animals can show a sunk-cost bias. One recent University of Minnesota study found mice and rats were just as likely as humans to fall foul of lab experiments involving delays and rewards. In each case, the more time invested waiting for their ‘prizes’ (for the rodents, flavoured pellets, for the humans, funny videos) the less likely they were to quit the pursuit before the delay ended. According to some researchers, this pattern may suggest some evolutionary reason for this economically irrational flaw.

甚至是动物都表现出了一种沉没成本偏见。明尼苏达大学(University of Minnesota)最近的一项研究发现,在涉及延迟和奖励的实验室试验中,老鼠跟人类一样,变得失去了理智。在各种情况下,用于等待“奖品”(对这种啮齿类动物来说,就是有味道的颗粒物;对人类来说,就是搞笑视频)的时间越多,他们就越不可能在延迟结束前放弃追求。据一些研究人员的说法,该模式可能表明了这种经济上非理性缺陷的一些进化原因。

‘A winning hand’

“胜券在握”

At work, the consequences of desperately hanging on to irrecoverable costs can be catastrophic. For smaller firms, this could mean, for instance, putting off firing a worker you have spent months training, even though it was clear from the outset they were never going to cut it.

在工作中,无法收回成本,但又拼命不放手,这样的后果可能会是灾难性的。对于小公司来说,这可能意味着,比如,推迟解雇一名你花了好几个月时间进行培训的员工,尽管从一开始就很清楚,他们不可能避开这件事。

But this same spirit pushes people towards totally illogical huge investments. Thinking only in terms of future possible gains means they fail to factor in unrecoverable funds already spent. It’s easy to see why.

但驱使人们进行完全不合逻辑的巨额投资的,也是同样的态度。如果只考虑未来可能的收益,意味着忽视已经支出的不可回收成本。其中原因显而易见。

After you’ve invested £10 million ($13m) in a project, which hasn’t delivered, the case for throwing in a further £5 million is far easier to justify if you only consider returns on £5 million – rather than £15 million. But in reality, of course, you also don’t want to look stupid by abandoning it.

在你向一个尚未交付的项目投入1000万英镑(1300万美元)后,如果你只考虑500万英镑的回报——而非1500万镑,那么再投入500万英镑就更容易为人所接受。当然,在现实中,你也不想因为放弃这个项目而让自己显得很愚蠢。

In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman hypotheses that ‘sunk cost’ thinking often explains why firms turn to new management, or hire consultants, at this stage of a project’s decline. Not, he believes, because they are necessarily more competent than the original managers – but because the new arrivals carry none of the political baggage (and the associated reluctance to cut losses and move on).

诺贝尔经济学奖得主丹尼尔·卡尼曼(Daniel Kahneman)在《思考,快与慢》(Thinking, Fast and Slow)一书中假设,"沉没成本"思维常常可以解释,为什么企业在项目走下坡路的阶段会转而求助新的管理层,或者聘请新的顾问。他认为,这并非因为这些人比之前的管理者能力更强,而是因为新来的管理者没有任何政治包袱(也不会因为不愿意止损而继续向前冲)。

Like a gambler ‘chasing losses’ at a poker table, people stuck in the sunk cost trap will pretend that they have a winning hand. Nick Leeson, the infamous ‘Rogue Trader’ who caused the collapse of Barings Bank in 1995, followed similar reasoning in trying to recover his position from a series of disastrous early trades.

就像一个赌徒在牌桌上要捞回本钱一样,陷入沉没成本陷阱的人会假装自己胜券在握。1995年导致巴林银行(Barings Bank)破产的“流氓交易员”、臭名昭注的尼克·利森(Nick Leeson)正是基于类似的理由,想把之前的一系列灾难性交易损失扳回来。

Political overspend

政治性超支

Making continuous foolish decisions driven by sunk-cost analyses will eventually lead firms to haemorrhage money or market share and consequently grind to a halt.

在成本分析的驱动下不停做出愚蠢的决定,将最终导致企业出现大量亏损,失去市场份额,并最终陷入停滞状态。

By contrast, there are fewer checks and balances around political decision-making. It certainly doesn’t help that around the world, political U-turns are viewed as inherently weak – further incentivising politicians to persist with costly decisions.

相比之下,围绕政治决策的相互制衡就少多了。雪上加霜的是,在全球范围内,政治上180度大转弯被视为天性软弱的表现,它会进一步刺激政客固执地坚持某项决策,尽管代价高昂。

Many examples bear out this trend on a global level. Public infrastructure projects are notorious for running over budget – Britain’s proposed ‘High Speed Rail 2’ project – on course to overspend by £50 billion ($65bn) and counting, for instance.

在全球,许多例子都证实了该趋势。公共基础设施项目容易预算超支,这是恶名远播的。例如英国的《高铁2号项目》(High Speed Rail 2)超支500亿英镑(650亿美元),并且这个数字还在继续上升。

Japan, too, has a costly addiction to infrastructure spending. This is part of the reason the country has been saddled with the highest level of national debt in the world. Many of these projects have offered very little fiscal stimulus, and there are numerous ‘bridges to nowhere’, both literal and metaphorical.

日本也沉迷于成本高昂的基础设施开支上。这是它的国债水平居世界之冠的部分原因。其中很多项目对促进财政增长都没有太大的作用,无论从字面意思,还是比喻意义,该国有太多“不知通向何处的桥梁”。

In the US, the “war on drugs” policy increased the number of people behind bars, creating the most extensive prison infrastructure in the world. Yet despite the wealth of evidence that focusing on supply has done little to curtail drug abuse (and caused a host of terrible side effects) lawmakers would now struggle to dismantle this pervasive system.

在美国,“毒品战”政策增加了入狱人数,创造了世界上最大规模的监狱基础设施。尽管大量证据都表明,专注于打击毒品供应对遏制毒品滥用效果甚微(而且还会造成一系列可怕的副作用),但对于是否废除这个已经普遍存在的制度,议员们仍很挣扎。

The sunk cost trap drives bad decisions in the billions and trillions, but it also impacts personal finances – individuals waste money needlessly pouring their savings, for instance, into repairing a property that gains no value.

沉没成本陷阱会导致数不清的糟糕公共决策,它也会影响个人财务状况,比如,个人将储蓄大量浪费在修复一项毫无价值的房产上。

Fighting the fallacy

避开沉没成本谬论

The sunk cost fallacy, then, has huge significance on a micro and macroeconomic level – for personal and political decision-making around the world.

因此,沉没成本谬误在微观和宏观经济层面都有着重大影响——无论是对于世界各地的个人还是政治决策而言,莫不如此。

Yet a greater awareness of this illogical thought process may help us avoid falling into these traps – and to hold business leaders and politicians to account when they do.

如果我们对这种不合逻辑的思维过程有更多了解,或许就可以避免陷入这些陷阱;对于商界领袖和政界人士来说,他们如果了解多一些,在面对陷阱时,就能承担起责任。

So, how can we avoid the pitfalls?

那么,我们如何才能避免这些陷阱呢?

“We are all susceptible to these biases”, says Dr Jim Everett, a social psychologist and researcher at Leiden University. “But often, we can partially offset them by taking a step back and thinking through the alternatives.”

“我们都容易受到这些偏见的影响,”莱顿大学(Leiden University)的社会心理学家和研究员埃弗雷特(Jim Everett)说。"但通常情况下,我们可以后退一步,考虑其它选择,这样就可以部分抵消它们的影响。"

When weighing up whether to persist with a course of action, he says, always ask yourself: ‘What would I gain or lose if I stuck with this option, and what would I gain or lose if I switched?'

埃弗雷特说,在权衡是否坚持一个行动方案时,要问自己:“如果我坚持这个选择,会得到什么?又会失去什么?如果我做出其它选择,又会得到什么或失去什么?”

If in doubt, Everett recommends reflecting on the entire chain of decisions that has led to where you are now, and considering the counterfactuals – in other words, what’s true and not true, a reality check.

如果存在疑问,埃弗雷特建议你反思一下整个决策过程,是怎样走到了今天的地步,并且想象一下与事实相反的状况——换句话说,就是什么是真实的,什么不是,进行现实检查。

“If presented with the same choice again, would I make the same decision? If not – why not?”

“如果再次面临相同的选择,我还会做出同样的决定吗?如果不会,为什么呢?”

So, it’s a simple idea, with global ramifications. And ultimately, it all goes back to the first lesson of gambling. Any good poker player knows when to fold.

所以,这是一个简单想法,但是具有全球影响力。最终,这一切都可以追溯到赌博的第一课。任何一个优秀的扑克玩家都知道什么时候该退出。

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