Cautionary Tales turns historical missteps into teachable moments

Weblog: Tim Harford’s podcast offers much-needed moral stories for grown-ups

Why do we tell our children fairytales? Let’s be honest, it’s not just to entertain them but to also teach moral lessons on the value of sharing, being kind to others, learning to be patient and so on. But what about us grown-ups? We probably need moral stories more than ever. Perhaps Tim Harford’s podcast Cautionary Tales will do the trick.

Harford, known for his weekly Financial Times column The Undercover Economist, digs up stories of disasters, missteps and shambolic blunders throughout history that are also teachable moments. As he puts it, the podcast is about “telling true stories about mistakes and what we should learn from them”.

One of the episodes centres on a colossal cock-up by one Brian Cullinan. Name doesn't ring a bell? What if I said he was the guy responsible for messing up at the Oscars, resulting in La La Land accidentally being awarded best picture? This episode of Cautionary Tales asks what led to the wrong film being read out and relates the error to faults in other complex systems like nuclear power plants and financial markets.

It is often the case, says Harford, that layers put in place to prevent errors can actually overcomplicate matters and make it more likely for mistakes to happen. An entertaining podcast that will leave you feeling a little smarter.