The Second 'C'

November 28, 2023

David Scharf, CCA president

Welcome to my monthly presidential blog. In my first post, I want to focus on the second C in CCA, the C for consulting. To do so, allow me to begin with a story, a story that is quite old, from ancient times.

It begins with a great Leader revered for his exemplary leadership, wisdom, kindness and strength. A distant King sought insight into this Leader and commissioned an artist to paint a portrait of the great Leader. Upon receipt of the portrait, the King convened his physiognomists (those that can decipher one’s true nature by studying facial characteristics) so that the King could understand what qualities make one a great leader. 

However, the report he received from the physiognomists was quite the surprise – the great Leader was described as arrogant, inconsiderate, delusional and impulsive. The King questioned the physiognomists, but they assured him that their analysis was accurate and that it, therefore, must be the portrait artist who provided a faulty portrait. 

The King decided to investigate himself and took the long journey to meet the great Leader in person where he saw that the portrait was remarkably accurate. Logically, then, the physiognomists must be at fault, for the great Leader was indeed great as the King himself could see.

The King then told the great Leader the entire saga. To the King’s great surprise (again!), the great Leader told him that the physiognomists were indeed correct. By nature, he had all those evil characteristics and flaws. But through discipline and determination he was able to overcome those negative traits and become the great Leader.*  

The obvious lesson from our story is most edifying – through dedication and discipline, one can surpass inherent shortcomings and attain great heights, a testament to hope and self-improvement.

As an actuary, I see the story through a different lens, focusing on data, assumptions and models. The data is the portrait and the physiognomists had concluded that the data is in error, that the artist depicted a false picture of the great Leader. But the King discovers by meeting the great Leader that the data is indeed accurate – the great Leader looks exactly like the portrait.

So he challenges the analysis of the portrait. If the picture is accurate then the model used to determine what the data means must be faulty. However, the model is not at fault – the analysis does indeed correctly evaluate the portrait.

Rather, the error lies in the assumptions used – in assuming a fixed nature from birth without room for personal growth. The assumption had a bias that led to the wrong conclusion.**

As a consulting actuary (I told you I would eventually get to the second C!), I see this from yet another perspective. The King discerns the truth not through analytical analysis, but through personal engagement with the Leader.

More than just a valuable lesson on self-improvement, I see this tale as a lesson in communication and connection. Our value lies not solely in analytical rigor but in forging connections through interaction, conversation and engagement. Of course, actuarial analysis will always be an essential component of what we do, but we are more than that. We are Consulting Actuaries. 

*For more on this tale and physiognomy in general, see the following sources:

Aristotle. Minor Works: On Colours. On Things Heard. Physiognomics. On Plants. On Marvellous Things Heard. Mechanical Problems. On Indivisible Lines. The Situations and Names of Winds. On Melissus, Xenophanes, Gorgias. Translated by W. S. Hett. Loeb Classical Library 307. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1936.

Devriese, Lisa, editor. The Body as a Mirror of the Soul: Physiognomy from Antiquity to the Renaissance. Leuven University Press, 2021.

Leiman, Shnayer Z. “From The Pages of Tradition” Tradition 24, no. 4 (1989): 91-98

**A reminder that the USQS require one hour of bias education annually. CCA provides multiple opportunities to meet this requirement – through sessions at our Annual Meeting and the Enrolled Actuaries Conference, as well as through our webinars.