Stewardship is defined as the responsibility to shepherd and safeguard the interests of others. Many of us are in positions of stewardship on behalf of others in public corporations, private enterprises, and charitable organizations. Warren Buffett, perhaps the most widely followed business leader of our time, speaks often of the importance of stewardship in business. It is striking, then, to see the dearth of courses discussing the concept of stewardship at top American business schools.
In the online course catalogs of the top five MBA programs in the America (as recently ranked by US News and World Report), “stewardship” is nowhere to be found in any course title. To put this into context, each of these schools offers at least five classes with the word “leadership” in the title. In the detailed descriptions of courses offered at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, tied for #1 in the same report, the word “leadership” appears 108 times. The word “stewardship” is not mentioned once. The closest mention of the word appears in the context of how to steward yourself in a course entitled “Leading Your Life.”
Children are trained to count linearly: one, two, three, four, five, etc. Long before mathematics was invented, however, a subjective process of estimation was used to quantify and make decisions. If the ability to appreciate quantities in linear terms confers fitness advantage, that edge appears to have eluded Darwinian selection. Studies of the Amazonian Mundurucu indigenous tribe and preschool American children all suggest that humans are innately wired to use a compressed scale to understand magnitude – not unlike those depicted by logarithmic, exponential, or power-law functions. A compressed scale is biased toward achieving higher resolution at the lower end of the spectrum where smaller numbers reside, where discriminating subtleties in degrees of scarcity can provide the greatest benefit. Psychophysical studies assessing the magnitude of subjective estimation of sensory inputs such as light intensity and sound intensity also reveal innate mapping of signals on compressed scales. From an adaptive perspective, a compressed scale of subjective estimation enables a wider dynamic range of sensory processing which is valuable in environmental signal interpretation. The hypothesis that selective pressures favored the cognitive adoption of a compressed scale for subjective estimation is consistent with the reality that natural phenomena generally unfold through iteration, yielding patterns of development that are best understood through the prism of compounding rather than the lens of linearity. Like an intellectual slide rule, modern mathematics reprograms children. It obligates them to abandon their natural cognitive tendencies, which rely on compressed scales and estimation and coerces them into adopting linear scales that provide uniform resolution along the entire scale. It resigns them to participate in a wholesale exercise of indiscriminate precision with respect to all things. This force-fed mental framework may help individuals thrive in the artificiality of our modern socio-cultural-economic landscape, replete with man-made straight lines and standardized tests. However, we believe that the conflict between our innate instinct to estimate on a compressed scale and our learned ability to quantify on a linear scale is a source of profound decision dysfunction in the modern world, particularly impairing the ability to assess the possibilities of outlier outcomes.