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131 of 141 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating look at human behavior
In his latest book, Dan Ariely takes another look at some irrational behavior of humans. I am not sure that there is an upside to all the different irrational behaviors he explores. You could make the case that by becoming aware of our irrational behavior and understanding better where it comes from, we might be in a better position to make appropriate changes. My...
Published on May 29, 2010 by John Chancellor

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73 of 89 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars flawed and plodding
Behavioral Economics has been an expanding section of bookstores for a few years now, and a lot of the books coming out are thought-provoking and intelligent. This one makes the others look better by comparison.

I have global complaints, like the plodding pace of the writing, the confusing way in which some of the experiments are presented, the odd withholding...
Published on July 19, 2010 by Silea


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131 of 141 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating look at human behavior, May 29, 2010
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In his latest book, Dan Ariely takes another look at some irrational behavior of humans. I am not sure that there is an upside to all the different irrational behaviors he explores. You could make the case that by becoming aware of our irrational behavior and understanding better where it comes from, we might be in a better position to make appropriate changes. My point is I am not sure the title is indicative of the subject matter.

I found the book fascinating. At times I thought that he might be going into too much detail or dragging the story out a bit too long. But as I finished reading the book, I found that the lessons were sticking with me. I suspect that his teaching and writing techniques are highly developed and his approach is one that will leave the greatest impact on the student or reader.

There are several important concepts that he explores in this book. One subject I truly enjoyed and learned from what our innate desire for revenge. To illustrate the point, he told about his unfortunate experience with the purchase of an Audi automobile. At one time or another most of us have felt taken advantage of by a large company with rigid rules and procedures. I strongly felt his sense of outrage toward Audi. And while the story is a great example, I also feel sure that he is getting some revenge by telling how horrible their customer service can be. I am certainly not their ideal prospect but based on the story, I would never consider buying an Audi. I do believe that social media has leveled the playing field and given the average consumer a way to lash back. But as he points out in the book, revenge is a hollow victory and when we get consumed in seeking it, we generally lose.

There are numerous other concepts involving irrational behavior that he explores. One is our tendency to make rash decisions under the influence of emotions and then to continue to make decisions which are consistent with the emotional based decisions long after the emotional feelings have faded. We can become victims of our own emotional decisions.

Dan tells plenty of very personal stories in this book. You get to know him very well ... at times you get to share in-depth some very personal painful experiences he has gone through. It makes him very real. He is extremely open and transparent in this book. You will probably find it difficult to read about some of the pain he experienced during the recovery from a terrible accident. But there are some very valuable lessons imbeded in the stories he tells.

I immediately found myself using some to the lessons in this book in my work helping others. One very important lesson involves what we get from work. He told the story of a book editor who completed the task of editing a book and was paid the agreed price. She was then told by the publisher that he had decided not to publish the book. On a rational level, it should have made no difference. But she was highly disappointed. The lesson is we want/need both the material compensation from work and the feeling of contribution we get from work. Without the feeling that what we do matters, we are left with an emotional letdown.

There is an interesting chapter on why online dating does not work and another chapter on how compensation is a poor motivator. Reading this book will give you a much better understanding of human behavior.

The book is very easy to read. It is written in a totally conversational style. Dan has the rare gift to take a complex subject and present it in easy to understand concepts. His approach to writing is somewhat different but I believe highly effective in terms of understanding and retention.

As Daniel Goleman pointed out in his books Social Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence, so much of our success is dependent on our social and emotional intelligence - not our IQ. This book will help you improve your social and emotional intelligence.
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42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "We need to know our limitations.", June 1, 2010
Dan Ariely's "The Upside of Irrationality" is subtitled "The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home." A more apt title would have been "Predictably Irrational--the Sequel," since this book comes across more as a follow-up to Ariely's first book ("Predictably Irrational--The Hidden forces that Shape Our Decisions") than a presentation of completely new material. The author, who is a behavioral economist, recounts a series of experiments that he and his colleagues conducted to explore such questions as: What makes work meaningful and, conversely, what can make it dull and unsatisfying? Why do people procrastinate? How does a person's self-image influence whom he chooses to date? Why is revenge so sweet even though it "has no more quenching effect on emotions than salt water has on thirst"? In what ways do our emotions impel us to make self-destructive decisions?

In Chapter Eleven, "Lessons from Our Irrationalities," Ariely sums up his thesis succinctly: "Our cognitive biases often lead us astray, particularly when we have to make, big, difficult, [and] painful choices." The author brings his point home in a poignant manner when he discusses what happened after he incurred third degree burns in an accident. In order to reduce his pain and the number of surgeries he would have to undergo, his doctor recommended the amputation of his hand and forearm. Dan says, "I decided to hold on to my poor, limited, eviscerated limb and make the best of things." Now he wonders if he made a mistake: "I was not so rational, and I kept my arm--resulting in more operations, reduced flexibility, and frequent pain."

Although this book breaks little new ground in a popular field crowded with similar works, Ariely's personal account of his ordeal, including the excruciating physical and occupational therapy that he endured, make for compelling reading. When Dan admits that he agonized over his ability to find a woman to love as well as a satisfying job, we cannot help but empathize. "The Upside of Irrationality" offers a much-needed reminder that we can never totally eliminate our subconscious biases. At best, we can remain cognizant of our irrationality, and make use of our self-knowledge to optimize our chances for success and happiness.
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71 of 84 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Well worth the wait., May 27, 2010
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Fans of Predictably Irrational will be pleased with the second installment into what appears to be an "Irrational" series.

I would quibble with the title and the subtitle of the book but what really matters is what is between the covers.

Without giving away a book full of hard earned research results, perhaps capturing a clip from the book will best describe why this book will do so well.

In a comparison of perceived clutch basketball players with bankers, you find out that there really is not much evidence for a category of "clutch" basketball players. Yes, these players get the ball more in the final five minutes of the game, and therefore score more points but they perform no better or worse than they do in the rest of the game. The notion of the "clutch player" is not completely negated, but evidence is brought forth that any apparent higher caliber play in the final five is simply a function of more opportunities.

The reason this research was done was to build on research conducted in India using a limited bank account but wanting to find out just how performance bonuses might motivate people.

Various individuals are offered a chance to be given certain amounts of money based upon how well they perform in 8 games. It turns out the more money possible to be scored, the more likely the individual was to fail at the games. There was a bump over people performing for little more than a few hours of their time taken up but a more significant bump for individuals who received moderate sized "bonuses."

The experiment was laid out to show that large bonuses...amounting to as much as 5 months worth of income if medium difficulty level tasks were completed...don't motivate but actual interfere with performance.

Ariely was obviously on top of the notion that this part of India was incredibly poor so having a chance at 5 months worth of income was truly dramatic.

As I read this I thought, "yes but could this be the difference between eating and not eating, or is this the difference between buying a TV or not having a TV."

With that mindset I found the results fascinating.

If you've ever watched the TV Show Survivor, you've seen similar behaviors by people who consistently lose. People who let the pressure get to them because the clock is ticking... can do nothing but fail, and do indeed fail. But in Survivor there is always a winner. Some adapt. Some do not. An area for further study perhaps.

I suspect Ariely's findings will generalize in most areas of business. It's hard to imagine that mega-bonuses do anything but reduce performance. Sharing a similar view with an audience of bankers he reports having found little support for his notion. No surprise to Ariely or the reader.

Perhaps most interesting are his final thoughts on this specific topic which is decision makers he's spoken to at companies seem clueless as to the effects of bonuses on performance and they seem uninterested in testing to find out what the results are.

Each section in the book is filled with nuggets. There are many aha's to the wise. There are many moments of "Oh I knew that already," because the human mind is geared to have excellent hindsight and great ability to change what we would have predicted before the fact... Trying disengage from that bias is not as easy as one might think!

The Upside of Irrationality delves into a host of fascinating areas.

The research goes into the dating arena. Ariely shows us why we overvalue the things we make ourselves. He explains many things not covered by others in the field including a very nice indepth look at why we seek justice.

Like it's predecessor this book entertains, informs and gives pause for thought in your (my) own life.

Kevin Hogan
Author of The Psychology of Persuasion: How to Persuade Others to Your Way of Thinking
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73 of 89 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars flawed and plodding, July 19, 2010
By 
Silea (Pacific Northwest) - See all my reviews
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Behavioral Economics has been an expanding section of bookstores for a few years now, and a lot of the books coming out are thought-provoking and intelligent. This one makes the others look better by comparison.

I have global complaints, like the plodding pace of the writing, the confusing way in which some of the experiments are presented, the odd withholding of information (at one point the author declines to explain the difference between two different auction styles, citing the complexity, but they must have been able to explain each style to the participants in order for the experiment to work), and such. Even if the experiments themselves were done well, this would be a major reason to avoid this book, even for someone doing a thorough reading of the lay-literature of Behavioral Economics.

Then there's some nitpickier complaints, like how the author feels compelled to mention the horrible injury, and arduous healing process, that he suffered years before. While i do understand that this was a major life event for him, and in fact got him started in the field, it's unclear what it adds to the book to mention it every chapter. He's also compelled to mention his other book repeatedly, just in case we missed the fact that this is his second book, even though this one doesn't build on the last one directly.

The major failing of this book, though, is the experiments themselves. And, for reasons of sensationalism and piling on the bandwagon of complaining about the 2008 financial crisis, one of the most flawed experiments leads the book. In short, in an attempt to show that paying financial experts huge bonuses actually harms their efficacy, they show that paying random passers-by huge bonuses for tasks totally unrelated to their actual profession harms their efficacy. There are several marked differences between the experimental subjects and the bankers to whom the author would like to generalize the results (no, i'm not arguing that bankers are 'special' as the author claims his banker friends often do, just that they're businesspeople and random people on the street in India probably aren't, if they're wandering down the street in the middle of the day and have the time to stop and do the experiment). There are several marked differences in the way the bonuses were offered, whether they were expected, how the bonuses related to the tasks, etc. Basically, either the author totally failed to convey how the experiment was actually related to his conclusion, or he took an experiment only tangentially related to the topic and claimed it was related in order to lead his book with a chapter about the 2008 financial crisis.

Other experiments, while less flawed, are just pointless. For example, he showed that if someone's rude to you, you're more likely to take an opportunity to punish them than you would be if they weren't rude to you. (Shocking, i know, but he has the data to back up the claim.)

Another great sin is that the author only rarely follows through on the promise of the subtitle. There are dribs and drabs of comments on how being irrational can be beneficial, but more often it's simply observations that humans aren't, in fact, machines of pure reason that always seek the greatest gain for the least effort. After a few requisite digs at how Rational Economists totally fail to actually predict human behavior, this 'oh, and check that out, people aren't perfectly rational!' mantra gets redundant.

If you like books on Behavioral Economics, read Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomics. They are better written, with better data and better analysis. And if you've already read those two, stay well clear of this one, as you'll find it vapid, slow, frustrating, and poorly written when compared to those.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Dropping the other shoe in behavioral economics, June 13, 2010
By 
Mark P. McDonald (Chicago, IL United States) - See all my reviews
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Dan Arliey's first book Predictably Irrational introduced business leaders to issues of behavior economics when it was released in 2008. His latest the Upside of Irrationality drops the other shoe in behavioral economics concentrating more on how economic behavior influences issues the context of business and everyday life.

This book is a worthy compliment to his earlier work and it pretty much follows the same pattern as Predictability Irrational. It is organized around a set of interrelated observations that are described first in terms of the hypothesis, then the tests conducted to evaluate the hypothesis and finally the results and implications. This would normally be quite boring, but Arliey's writing and the novel way of testing economic behaviors keep the book entertaining and interesting.

In addition, Ariely peppers the second half of the book - which focuses on personal issues of irrationality - with stories of his experiences following a horrendous accident he suffered as a teen-ager. These personal notes are essential in translating ideas from the antiseptic academic to the messy real world.

Here are brief summaries of the chapters.

1. Paying more for less: why big bonuses do not always work - the bonus structure that raises the performance of physical work often freezes out knowledge workers.

2. The Meaning of Labor: what Legos can teach us about the joy of work - how work defines us and the value we place on that definition. There are deep reasons why everyone's baby is the most beautiful in the world.

3. The IKEA effect: why we overvalue what we make - the behavioral realities of `sunk effort' and how to make products and services more sticky by stealing from Betty Crocker.

4. The not-invented-hear bias: why my ideas are better than yours - an examination of author bias and the behaviors behind executive, expert and management hubris in the workplace.

5. The case for revenge: what makes us seek justice - it is more than a dish best served cold. In fact revenge is a very powerful force in business.

6. On Adaptation: why we get used to things, but not all things and not always - provides a fascinating study of the behavioral economics of change that helps you understand why traditional change management does not work.

7. Hot or Not? Adaptation, assertive mating and the beauty market - if you always thought it was a jungle out there, you were right and this chapter talks about the realities of how you seek and form lasting social relationships.

8. When a market fails: an example from online dating - a fascinating look at how the most sophisticated technology and psychographics cannot resolve a fundamentally flawed market structure.

9. One empathy and emotion: why we respond to one person who needs help, but not to many - explains the rational and reality behind how to mobilize people and their resources and why the American Cancer Society is so effective.

10. Long term and short term emotions: why we shouldn't act on our negative feelings - the reasons and science behind why it really is best to sleep on it.

11. Lessons form our irrationalities: why we need to test everything - provides a framework and way of thinking to get your rationality back.

STRENGTHS

The book has kept the structure and formula that made Predictably Irrational successful. If you liked that book, then you will like this one.

The book connects with other research studies to demonstrate findings that go beyond one person, which is refreshing as many business books think that the individual authors are the single font of all wisdom (see Chapter 4)

The book is backed by real research and the author is not afraid to show you how they tested the idea, the results and the implications.

The writing style is personal, you feel as if Ariely is explaining the ideas in the book to you over a conversation without it getting stale or too academic.

CHALLENGES

In keeping with the formula for Predictably Irrational, the book can drag in places as you go through the same structure for each of the first 10 chapters.

The experiments, while interesting, involve college students (MIT and Harvard mostly) working with relatively trivial sums of money. This does not invalidate the findings, just raises an issue of applicability in a bigger business setting.

Others have already hijacked some of these findings and experiments, which may lead you to believe that Arliey's work is lagging rather than leading investigations into behavior economics. Just because others are talking about this, it does not mean that they did the work.

Overall Recommendations:

* Required reading for people who liked Predictably Irrational.

* Recommended for anyone who has heard of behavior economics, or read the dozens of other `brain science' books out there: How We Decide, Buy-ology, etc.

* If you a new to this area I really recommend reading Predictably Irrational first, not because I want you to buy more books, but starting here can easily lead you to get lost.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars OK, so I'm a fan already, June 25, 2010
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Writing as reviewer #31, having written a number of other reviews myself: what is it about this book that virtually all of the reviews thus far, even the negative ones, are multi-paragraph and thoughtful? Usually, by the time a book has 30, we're seeing the "loved it!" "hated it!" "Didn't arrive on time!" filler. Not here. Ariely's work sticks in your mind, and you are inspired to write more than you normally would.

That said--it appears that behavioral econ gets really really close to marketing, as a field of study. Economists are testing and discovering what marketers have known since Ogilvy wrote his first ad.

Both of Ariely's books are "news you can use." I find myself referring to the stories--we cheat, given the opportunity. We make decisions about sex differently when we're drunk (duh, but that's rarely addressed in sex ed). (Still haven't forgiven him for presenting 50-yo women as "beyond the pale" in that experiment, BTW.) Those experiments are from the first book. I know the one about Legos and meaning in work from this book will find its way into my life--watching work get canceled or undone has had a huge effect on my own career and motivation.

Many of the review copy books that come my way get passed on to book swaps, in hope that someone else will find them more useful. I'm keeping this one. I'll be back in it.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Due credit is given to the power of irrationality, June 7, 2010
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The first overall theme of this book is that humans are largely irrational and the second is that there are many beliefs that have been proven wrong and a lot of others that could be proven wrong. Ariely takes on many common beliefs, the one that most people of 2009-2010 will find of interest is his conclusion from experiments that large bonuses paid to executives are counterproductive. Furthermore, substantial bonuses to any employees generally lead to inefficiency rather than increases in productivity.
There are two main reasons that I found this book to be interesting. The first was the set of experiments that Ariely designed and carried out with his colleagues and the second were the conclusions that he reached from the experiments. All the experiments were attempts to learn more about human behavior, covered many different things and were well done. Some examples are:

*) The relative ability to tolerate pain
*) The general failure of online dating strategies
*) What really motivates people to be more productive
*) How people alter their perceptions of the (un)attractiveness of certain physical characteristics over time
*) Why revenge is such a critical (and often unappreciated) component of human behavior
*) Do some players perform better when the game is on the line? This is commonly known as "in the clutch."

Interspersed with the experiments and conclusions are descriptions of the terrible burn injuries that Ariely suffered during his late teen years. His recovery was slow and he never returned to a normal state and his descriptions of some of the treatments are not for the emotionally weak. For this reason, while some will find his personal experiences interesting, others would prefer that they had been left out.
The best line is when Ariely says that any academic economist that really believes that business managers will always behave economically rationally has obviously never worked a day outside academia in their life. Irrationality is a powerful driving force that is often not given enough credit for how strong it is. In this book Ariely, gives it the due credit.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wow! This is good stuff!, June 4, 2010
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In some ways, I want to call this a pop-psych book, but it's more than that. This is not some kind of a fuzzy feel-good self-help book. This is more of "Hey, I tested some of the 'common knowledge' stuff, and found out that it is more like 'common fantasy' -- let me tell you the truth about it!"

Dan Ariely is not a boring psychology / behavioral writer - he is more of a storyteller. So while he may be writing about psychology and behavioral topics, he's doing it in a storytelling fashion, which makes it infinitely more readable and accessible to a common man like me.

This book is a great narrative of someone who THINKS. Someone who notices something odd in someone's behavior, and then decides to develop an experiment to test it out. Is the behavior really unusual, or is the 'common knowledge' wrong? Maybe people don't actually behave the way that everyone expects!

Obviously, I'm trying not to give away any of the key discoveries of the book. Suffice to say - I am learning a lot from it! I hope to be able to take what I've learned and put it in to practice!

I highly recommend this book. Also, now that I have read this, I'm going to go find and read Ariely's previous book!
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as good as Ariely's first book, July 29, 2011
When I first read Predictably Irrational it sparked an interest to read more about behavioral economics. So over the years I read a few books about behavioral economics such as Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman (who are the fathers of behavioral economics), and Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. After a while, I noticed that these books quite repeat each other and that they seldom provide any new insights.

As for The Upside of Irrationality, Ariely's writing style is witty and filled with humor. However, as opposed to Predictably Irrational it doesn't provide any new insights. As other reviewers have already mentioned, some of the experiments in this book are questionable. Just to cite one example, Ariely argues that high bonuses are not effective because when high stakes are involved people get nervous, and therefore, their performance drops. He "proves" that by offering three different winning prices (a small, medium and large bonuses) to random people to play various games. In this experiment, the performance of the player dropped as the amount of the bonuses was higher. Therefore, Ariely argues, big bonuses are not the best way to provide incentives to workers. (This only applies to cognitive tasks, and not to, for instance, laying brick, where the bigger the bonuses the harder people work).

Just imagine someone approached you and told you that if you will perform well in some game you will win a sum of money equivalent to an average five-month salary. Obviously, your heart rate will go sky-high and your performance will drop. Now, let's say you're working in some think tank in Washington and you're currently working on some presentation that is due in a few weeks. Do you think the high bonuses, to be received at the end of the year, will affect you in the same way? In my opinion, it will not. In the second scenario, I think the employee will be less subjected to pressure since he had more time to adjust himself to the idea of a large bonus. Moreover, because the reward of the bonus will not be immediate, you'll be less subjected to pressure of a high bonus as well. The example above just comes to show that Ariely's conclusions are inconclusive (people can argue both ways).

All in all, if you're already familiar with behavioral economics you might as well pass on this book, but if you're not you might enjoy this book. Just remember to read this book with a critical eye.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Irrationally boring, August 26, 2010
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The premise is interesting - how do economists explain all the mysteries of life, such as, why a bigger paycheck doesn't always result in better results. These mysteries are examined through experiments, such as inviting people off the street in India to perform different tasks for differing compensation.

Problem is, the experiments are described in excruciating detail. Admittedly this may be necessary in order to give credence to the "findings", which are of varying credibility nevertheless, since it's hard to analogize multi-million dollar payouts with one-to-ten dollar payouts. But after a few of these exercises in mind-numbing detail, it's easy to tune out. And the ones you did get through ... again, it's hard to agree with the conclusions, since the relationship of the experiments to reality is questionable, sometimes even silly. People value things they created themselves more than someone else's? Wow. Really? To be fair, it's something we would guess, but perhaps there is value in seeing it happen in an experimental setting. Or perhaps not.

The other problem is that the author keeps bringing in irrelevant personal details about his travel, his accident, etc. etc. It's quite annoying. I've seen others praise his writing, but between overlong descriptions of experiment design and personal data serving as filler, I'm not so sure.

The author has obviously overcome (or is dealing with) a lot of personal hardship. I applaud his drive to move on, but an editor was badly needed. For example, Freakonomics was a better-paced book in a similar genre.
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