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Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition Paperback – November 6, 2012
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This book is filled with interesting examples of how our instinctive first responses can lead to less than optimal choices. I'll relate two of the book's examples, so you can get a feel for what's in the book, and then you can hopefully decided better whether you want to buy it. The first example that comes to mind may be called the "inside versus outside" view. To illustrate "inside" thinking, consider the case of race horse Big Brown in 2008. He won the Kentucky Derby by four and three-quarters lengths, and then he won the Preakness Stakes by five and one-quarter lengths. Prior to Big Brown's attempt to win the Belmont Stakes (and thus capture racing's Triple Crown), he looked great, and his owner expressed a lot of confidence. On race day for the Belmont, Big Brown's odds were 3 - 10, making him the easy (75% likelihood of winning) favorite. That's the details-oriented "inside" view. The "outside" view is that of the 29 prior horses to compete in the Belmont after winning both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, only 11 won the Belmont (about 38%). Further, since 1950 (perhaps when better training methods were more commonly practiced) only 3 of 20 horses (15%) with a chance to win the Triple Crown won the Belmont. In short, the inside view was optimistic, but the outside view wasn't. It turns out that Big Brown finished ninth in the Belmont.
A briefer second example of how our "mental models" affect our thinking and decision making, concerns French and German wines available for sale in a store. When French music was played, customers chose French wine 77% of the time, yet when German music was played in the store, customers chose German wine 73% of the time. The customers were asked whether they heard the music and whether it affected their choices. Most customers recalled hearing the music, but they denied that it had anything to do with their choices.
Okay, perhaps these examples will help you understand the kind of reasoning processes that author Mauboussin examines and discusses in Think Twice. Indeed, the book's title is the shortest advice he has to give to people facing situations where instinctive responses may impede the best decisions. As they say, forewarned is for forearmed.
Author Michael Mauboussin states on page 143 that almost everyone agrees decision-making is important yet we don't teach students how to make good decisions. I recommended Think Twice plus Decisive by Chip & Dan Heath to the students.
I was not wow'ed by this book (therefore 4, not 5, stars) but had several Aha's:
1. A crowd of partially informed is more accurate than a handful of experts.
2. Peter Drucker's question to Campbell Soup leaders : "If we did not do this (promote tomato soup) already, would we, knowing what we do now, go into it?" Drucker was one of the best at posing questions instead of giving answers.
3. To improve a team or organization, don't rely on bringing in a star. Instead improve the whole instead of adding or subtracting one person.
And Mauboussin's points are all the more credible because there is further supporting evidence of the principles he describes well outside the domains where he proposed they be used. The principles in "Think Twice" fit perfectly with W. Edwards Deming's work that led to Japan's postwar resurgence and became the foundation of today's Lean Manufacturing practices and the Toyota Production System.
Unlike Mauboussin, Deming did not use the phrase "mean reversion," but Deming's view that manufacturing defects were evidence of inherent variability in manufacturing systems rather than evidence of lapses in a particular worker's effort fits perfectly with Mauboussin's work: "In a probabilistic environment, you are better served by focusing on the process by which you make a decision than on the outcome" (p.xx) could just as easily have come from Deming if Deming had been as good a writer as he was a statistician.
Again, Mauboussin's points are all the more compelling because they can be successfully applied to situations far beyond those where he proposed they be used. "Think Twice" is a must-read for anyone who wants to make well-informed, insightful decisions.
Even though this book is aimed more at business and political decision making, it was very useful for me to avoid mistakes in my profession, which often entailed cross examination by the attorneys for both parties in court.
First, the author brings together the fragmented research into the psychology of decision making, then he analyzes the mistakes made in recent critical decisions. Among these are the mistakes that stalled the delivery of Boeing's new aircraft.
If one considers how to improve his decision making on any level, reading this will only help.
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He will get you thinking and hopefully get you to slow your decision making to prevent long lasting errors.