The Upside of Irrationality: The Unexpected Benefits of Defying Logic at Work and at Home 1st Edition
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From Publishers Weekly
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Behavioral Economics is a fascinating subject to me. Why do humans act the way they do, and why do they act in ways that often seem counter-intuitive or just plain wrong? I find the design of experiments to show these foibles to be fascinating and enjoyable reading.
But not this book. For starters, the writing style seemed bit long-winded and overly complicated. It always seemed like it took far more words to explain things than was actually needed.
My biggest complaint, though, was the stretch made in applying the results of the experiments. I am not a trained statistician or economist, but every time I read the results of one of the experiments and the conclusions generated, there seemed to be an obvious flaw.
For example, in one experiment, the author attempts to quantify the effects of large financial bonuses (the kinds paid to investment bankers) on their performance. As a substitute, he uses relatively poor paid workers (low wage earners in India), and offers them "bonuses" equal to several month's pay. He does this because several month's pay for these individuals is a relatively small amount of money (less that $100), so his research budget can afford it.
The problem is that while the relative sizes of the bonus might be similar, the effects they have on the wage earner can hardly be the same. If the investment banker misses his bonus, the net result might be a two day Disneyland vacation instead of two weeks in Europe--different, but hardly life changing. However, a few month's salary to an Indian wage earner, making subsistence wages, might be the difference between medical treatment versus no medical treatment for a sick child.
Obviously the motivations and consequences of these will be different. And yet the author makes no attempts to explain or control for these conditions while drawing conclusions about high wage earners based on subsistence wage earners.
A second example is a study quantifying the effects of employee motivation by an experiment performed on "workers" hired to assemble Lego toys for a dollar or so. But the type of person who signs up for an experiment to assemble Lego toys for an afternoon and a person holding a 9-5 job for years may be quite different. Again, no attempt to explain or control. But again, the author makes conclusions about the second group based on the first.
Every one of the studies I read seemed to have some flaw which was either not explained or not controlled for. After a while I stopped reading and just skimmed the last half of the book.
Very disappointed, and I would say skip this book.
-The book is broken down into two sections, one that has more to do with business related issues and the other, with issues that are more of a personal nature. The basic format is to come up with an idea that is being questioned and then to either support that idea or negate it by some sort of experiment. For example, we consider it an automatic and not to be questioned idea that the more pay that you offer someone, the more they could be motivated. Motivation for pay, though, has a limit, and after reaching that limit, increased pay has a negative effect on performance. The rationale is that the person is so fixated on the prize, that the actual job being done suffers.
-Some of the chapters cover ideas that may be related strongly, but the ideas have some sort of twist to them, so that they truly are different. Personal relationships is something that’s of interest to everyone, and new light is shed on certain facets of relationships and dating. For example, he delves into the on line dating world and give criticisms of why it isn’t set up as it should be. The human mind works in a certain way, and relationships are sparked by spontaneity. The dryness of the descriptions of each person in dating sites, inhibit the release of that spark which causes two people to relate to each other. But it’s the detail that he goes into, and recommendations for improvement, that makes this all the more interesting.
-There is also a lot of personal experience that he reveals here, which adds to the interest, and he injects personal tales throughout the book.
-All in all, there are very good and thought provoking ideas presented that can’t all be digested with just one reading. Very good for its presentation as well. Though the ideas it presents are not what you would expect, it’s an easy read, and you’ll find yourself going through the book very quickly while highlighting at least a third of what’s written.
The first half of the book covers motivation and incentives at work. Description of experiments is vivid, often presented from the perspective of the subjects in the experiments (ie rats and humans). The findings indeed provide useful lessons for employers, supervisors, as well as government. It is also a joy to read.
The second half covers the author's personal reflection and observation, as well as experiments to look into a mishmash of issues, such as revenge, online dating, adaptation to change, etc. The discussion is still interesting and enlightening. However, there is a tendency to be too brief on the statistical outcome of experiments. For example, instead of stating the proportion of subjects who responded in a certain manner, the author strays into using 'most' or 'many' in describing such proportions. I suspect that some of the experiments were performed some time ago, and it may be too cumbersome for the author to look up the actual data of these dated experiments. As such, his discussion appears rather less convincing.
In all, the book provides important lessons on the psychology of decisions. It also gives a reflective account of the personal pain that the author has suffered since sustaining horrific injuries as a teenager. A touching and instructive book.
Top international reviews
‘We overvalue our work’ (p. 83). People who were taught origami and shown how to construct paper cranes or frogs, judged their creations as a lot more valuable than other people did. The implications for teachers are huge: project work of all kinds is a lot better than getting students to do endless exercises – the latter are not something they can take pride in, as they feel their contribution is too small (see also: YouTube: Psychology and ELT – The IKEA Effect).
‘Having created something, we want people to see it’ (p. 53). In a fantastic experiment, people told to construct Lego robots lost interest a lot faster when the robots were dismantled as soon as they had completed them than when they were told they would be disassembled later. The moral: although students may get all the linguistic benefits from having their essay/story marked and returned, in terms of motivation it makes a huge difference for us to display it in class (see also: YouTube: Psychology and ELT – The Pursuit of Meaning).
‘We prefer our own ideas to those of others’ (p. 107). In an amazing study, subjects favoured the ideas they had generated themselves, even when it was in fact the researchers who had given them these ideas in sentences a little while earlier! The moral for us is clear: rather than assigning H/W for instance, why not ask the students themselves what they would think it would be best for the class to do? (see also: YouTube: Psychology and ELT – The NIH Bias).
‘Short-term emotions can have long-term effects’ (p. 257). Here is how it works: we may be angry with our partner one day; we go to class; we snap at the students and we are unusually strict with them; the lesson is a failure. Later we reflect on the experience. Are we honest with ourselves? Of course not! Instead we try to justify our behaviour telling ourselves that we displayed the necessary firmness. But this ‘narrative’ actually impacts on our future behaviour; next time we are far more likely to be strict again! (A clear warning to all of us there... - see also: YouTube: Psychology and ELT – Emotions).
OK – here is my favourite, discovery: ‘habituation: we get used to things’ (p. 157). And now for the amazing, counter-intuitive implication for maximising satisfaction: ‘Pleasant activities – break them up; unpleasant ones – just get them over with’! So tell your partner, it makes sense to stop that massage every 2 min or so and then start all over again! :-)