Monday, 9 July 2012

Book Review: Sway; the irresistable pull of irrational behaviour by Brafman & Brafman

Irrational behavour? Me? Never!

The Brafman brothers write a compelling story of how irrational our behaviour is in a variety of circumstances. While most of the book is well evidenced they bring each of the issues alive with stories that make sense - perhaps too much sense.

I'm getting a bit tired of the constant use of the airline industry as a safety example. So it was with interest I read through the case study on the crash at Tenerife which was one of the largest loss of life incidents. The authors demonstrate how the perception of loss played an important part in the creation of the incident.

Next up is a football team in the US which managed to beat all the major players but relinquishing their commitment to the predominant method of play. The story here is about how our commitment to a certain way limits our opportunities for growth and advancement. The authors show how loss and commitment add together to become a powerful irrational pull.

The chapter on value attribution is quite scary. They use a number of examples. One is of a famous violin player dressed casually playing complex tunes in an underground station during rush hour. hardly anyone paid him any notice at all. Yet some would pay large sums of money to hear him play on stage dressed in his dinner suit. The book is worth the read in this chapter about the discovery of a human fossil and how scientists of the day were not prepared to give it credence because the discoverer wasn't "one of them".

If you are currently either interviewing people for a job or going for interviews yourself, then the next chapter which looks at how initial diagnoses or decisions sway our long term responses to individuals.

Perceptionsbeliefs and context come under scrutiny in the next chapter. If you want to understand why the USA has a Bipolar epidemic then read about it here. If you are involved in training and developing individuals then the examples of belief are important to understand.

So what is fairness? Read on to discover the importance of context.If you think monetary incentives are a motivation to change behaviour then the next chapter provides some examples which may rattle your thoughts. By now I was beginning to understand just how irrational we are as human beings. And just when I've grasped a bit of my own irrationality, the authors move onto the irrationality of groups, particularly looking at blockers and dissenters.

If you are wondering why no-one is following your instructions, why it is too difficult to plan something, why you always seem right and no-one else wrong... etc. then I thoroughly recommend this very readable book. It is an easy and relatively quick read (once - I had to reread to make sure I grasped what was being said).

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