on June 3, 2008
I've always considered myself pragmatic, logical, and clearly even-keeled. Then, I read Ori and Rom's book Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior. It's a magnetic read and I zipped through it in 2 quick sittings.
I rather like books that make me think twice about truths I hold self-evident. And Sway certainly made me think. Did I pre-judge my employees based on what others had said about them, or their previous jobs? Do I make rash (and possibly dangerous or stupid) choices when I'm committed to a certain plan of action and feel any diversion would be a loss? I certainly look for fairness in my business and personal transactions. But is fairness the key metric? Maybe not.
The book has opened my eyes and mind to new ways of approaching my business activities and relationships and family interactions. Hopefully I will recognize in advance a moment where I might act rash or choose the wrong -- irrational -- path and think again about my choices.
This is a smoothly written, enjoyable quick read that covers a really interesting subject. We all think we make rational, reasonable choices. But we all know of times that when we look back now we wonder if we really picked the right door, or maybe if 'psychological' reasons somehow pushed or pulled us towards an imperfect choice. This book is one of many neat books that takes solid research published in the growing fields of behavioural economics and social psychology, and then makes a readable whole out of them. There are riptides we feel underneath the waves we see. Not Freud or Jung psychobabble, but reliable biases and mental shortcuts that work for us most of the time. This book is about the times when they work against us.
Cool stuff: Great examples bring the ideas to life. (Hearing a master play a Stradivarius on the NY subway, the academic reaction to the Piltdown man, a surprising secret in an Israeli army leadership training course. On and on.) No need for any prior psychology knowledge. Clearly lets the reader understand the non-intuitive principles involved. Includes recent research findings in a story driven format. Not bogged down by intellectual showing off or long digressions. There are references at the back for those who want to read the original research.
What it is not: This ain't a definitive textbook. It is not new ground (but rather an overview of the field in a readable form). It doesn't get into details or any depth of why we behave in these ways, or how the behaviours may be connected. But that's OK, as long as you know you are buying a great general read not a graduate-level treatment.
The book finds new veins of gold in the mine of psychological research that has already produced Robert Cialdini's `Influence,' Scott Plous's `The Psychology of Judgement and Decision Making,' and other cool books like `Nudge,' or ` Freakanomics.' An fascinating worthwhile read.
The Brothers Brafman are like the Brothers Heath (Chip and Dan, co-authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others and forthcoming Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard) in that they seem to have an insatiable curiosity about what may, at first, seem to be aberrational human behavior but is in fact commonplace. In their book Sway, the Brafmans seek answers to questions such as these: Why would skilled and experienced physicians make decisions that contradict their years of training? What psychological forces underlie our own irrational behaviors? How do these forces creep up on us? When and why are we most vulnerable to them? How do they shape our business and personal relationships? When and how do they put finances, even our lives, at risk? And why don't we realize when we're being swaying?
The Brafmans obviously have a sense of humor. How else to explain chapter titles such as "The Swamp of Commitment" in which they discuss how Florida's then football coach, Steve Spurrier, dominated the SEC conference because the other coaches in the conference were loss averse and committed to a "grind-it-out-and-hold-in-to-the-ball offensive strategy. He played to win; they played not to lose. He introduced the "Fun-n-Gun" offense that scored more points in less time and attracted better recruits. In anther chapter, "The Hobbit and the Missing Link," they focus on a precocious young Dutch student named Eugene Dubois (1858-1940) who, after earning his degree in medicine, marriage, starting a career as well as a family, decided to seek what was then believed to be the missing link between apes and the more humanlike Neanderthals. He found it in the East Indies but both he and his discovery was largely ignored. Why? Because his contemporaries were firmly committed to a certain view of evolution that Dubois' discovery challenged. Moreover, "there was another force at play. Here's where commitment merges with the sway of `value attribution': our tendency to imbue someone or something with certain qualities based on perceived value, rather than on objective data."(This is one of the eight deceptions that Phil Rosenzweig discusses in his book, The Halo Effect.) The Brafmans also cite a more contemporary example of how value attribution works and how it swayed the anthropological community. In Washington, D.C. on a January morning in 2007, Joshua Bell (one of the world's finest violinists) performed for 43 minutes in the L'Enfant Plaza subway station. "Here was one of best musicians in the world playing in the subway station for free, but no one seemed to care."
As Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman explain in the Preface, their objective in this book is to explore "several of the psychological forces that derail rational thinking. Wherever we looked - across different sectors, countries, and cultures - we saw different people being swayed in very similar ways. We're all susceptible to the sway of irrational behaviors. But by better understanding the deductive pull of these forces, we'll be less likely to fall victim to them in the future." They fully achieve this objective with a book I consider to be a brilliant achievement. Bravo!
Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Ori Brafman's The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations (co-authored with Rod Beckstrom) and the aforementioned books by the Brothers Heath as well as Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational, Martin Lindstrom's Buyology, Gregory Berns's Iconoclast, Roger Martin's The Opposable Mind, Leonard Mlodinow's The Drunkard's Walk, Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan, and Joseph Murphy's The Power of Your Subconscious Mind.
on June 22, 2008
The Brafmans do an excellent job showcasing the irrational behavior all around us. Whether you're a doctor, venture capitalist, teacher, or even a college football coach, there are subtle psychological cues driving you to engage in irrational behaviors that can have a significant negative impact on your life. Reading the anecdotes, one might wonder 'how can anyone ever do that?' The book's close inspection of many different situations shows us that we all do it, and in fact, most of us are guilty of irrationality every single day. 'Sway' lifts the mystery behind these subtleties of irrational thinking and allows us to be more critical of ourselves so we can understand really what is driving the decisions we make day in and day out.
Overall, 'Sway' is a great read. It's very well-written, fast-moving, inherently entertaining, insightful, and just downright fun. It will leave you in a healthy state of self-reflection and critical thinking of the world around you.
on June 23, 2008
It's an amazing book! Ori and his brother take another Tipping Point slash Freakonomics approach to this book which is very successful and very good at communicating complicated concepts. By using stories I'm able to quickly grasp the idea, and then I have a vivid application of the concept that I can turn around and use to share with others. This is the kind of book you read today and talk about with everyone you run into for the next three weeks.
The main point of the book is that we are often drawn to doing dumb (irrational) things and making decisions that make no sense... but in reality, they do. Go read the book and you'll realize, yes, this is what is going on all the time. It helps explain so many behavioral (and economical) decisions that, hopefully, the understanding of 'sway' can help you make better choices (about yourself, your products, your approaches, etc.).
on June 13, 2008
i read ori's previous book starfish and the spider which was a bit all over the place but an interesting look at how decentralized organizations succeed. i was excited to get his new book and was not disappointed. he is like the newer version of malcolm gladwell, tying in really interesting stories to cover this topic of irrational decision making and why we do it. many great examples and he does a good job of giving you specific take aways to think about in how we each make our own decisions.
on July 22, 2008
Most people believe that their thoughts are completely rational without any sort of outside influence. "I am my own person and my thoughts are my own," most people would contend. However, after reading Sway, I see just how much tunnel vision people can have, including me. This tunnel vision can lead to a bad day, missed opportunities, or even the loss of life.
Thinking objectively seems easy and natural as we base our decisions on what we have learned over time. This, for obvious reasons, is a good thing. However, it can be detrimental if we are not adept enough to see the presented information through an unbiased lens in conjunction with our experiences. Not considering all facets of a situation in a way that is absent of useless, outside noise can stifle our personal growth as we hold to past beliefs that, from the current information, may not be true. After all, the earth is round.
As a counselor, I pride myself on being able to see things as they really are, and in cases of working with people, I can do this fairly well. However, Brafman and Brafman, helped me see my own shortcomings with certain decision making tactics and for this, I am thankful.
What I learned most from this book is the concept of Loss-Aversion. I have fallen prey to this often when rushing to be on time for an appointment. While I may have saved a few minutes, I have also sacrificed piece of mind and tolerable blood pressure for punctuality. I have sacrificed top-notch performance at meetings with colleagues, and all but ruined dates with my wife just because the clock said I was a little behind. I am its slave no more.
Sway is simplistically written which makes for an easy and enjoyable read for anyone wanting a little life-altering self-improvement. However, in its simplicity Sway gives the reader tools that can help in situations ranging from conquering negative group dynamics in a Fortune 500 company to determining if that painting in the thrift store is really worth its asking price.
Too many people don't see the invisible forces that influence their decisions. Experts, politicians, and even Sunday school groups all push our conclusions in directions that may or may not be accurate. In our quest for justice, equality, and truth, we must be willing to challenge the status quo, even if this means challenging authority figures, family members, and our own perception of the world around us.
The latest book on why people sometimes behave illogically is "Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior," by the Brafman brothers. Ori has a PhD in psychology and Rom is a graduate of the Stanford Business School. They tell engrossing stories, each of which illuminates a principle of human behavior, and pose such intriguing questions as: Why would an experienced pilot who values the safety of his passengers take unnecessary risks? Why did the Challenger Space Shuttle go up even after "engineers from the company that build the O-ring recommended that the launch be delayed"? Why would a group of emergency room doctors fail to treat an obviously sick two-year-old girl? Why are most job interviews a complete waste of time and energy?
The answers will surprise you, but the basic theme is that we tend to be unduly influenced by other people and by our own preconceived notions. Instead of using our intellects to objectively analyze each situation on its merits, "we often ignore all evidence that contradicts what we want to believe." The authors' premise has widespread implications for every aspect of our lives: government, the economy, education, and of course, our professional and personal relationships.
"Sway" is clearly written, entertaining, and enlightening. The authors illustrate their ideas using a variety of eye-opening examples from medicine, sports, finance, archaeology, and even the world of game shows. If you take the Brafmans' message to heart, you may decide to think before you act, instead of being swayed to do things that will make you feel sorry later.
on July 13, 2009
Ori & Rom Brafman have compiled a fascinating study into the psychological factors behind irrational behavior, and in the process, validates the findings of other books on the subject; human beings tend to make dumb decisions, based on emotions rather than logic. A classic example is the erratic nature of the stock market, since the Great Derpression; nothing about it has made sense at all, and I'm not sure it ever will make sense.
However, it's evident that certain irrational tendencies need to be corrected, if we are to thrive as a species. In the world of business, where fear permeates much of the sector known as "management", rarely will dissenting opinions be voiced to those intimidating CEOs who have made dumb decisions, usually based on greed & hubris. Nobody wants to be the one to speak up because nobody wants to run the risk of falling out of favor with the corporate hierarchy. That's no way to run a business.
However, just as it's critical for the pilots in the cockpit to communicate with the control tower, the same goes for the CEOs' management team; they've got to be able to communicate openly & honestly, for the sake of the survival of the organization. Anything else is disaster.
The authors have done an outstanding job of demonstrating that irrational behavior has pulled all of us at one time or another. If we don't learn from our follies, expect further disasters.
on August 10, 2008
I truly enjoyed Ori Brafman's last book The Starfish and the Spider so I was excited to read his latest work. This book didn't disappoint.
Given what I do for a living I am always fascinated with what makes people tick. SWAY is an engaging book that helps the reader understand the incredibly powerful undercurrent that influences our thinking and ultimately how we may make (good and bad) decisions.
The book is packed full of excellent stories which compliment and enhance the fundamental ideas presented in each chapter. I found the entire book to be thought provoking and extremely interesting.
A great read that I would recommend to everyone.