The art of thinking clearly

At the time I wrote one of my very first blog postings, I proclaimed that was not a great fan of self-help, do-it-your-self, counseling books. Nonetheless, some days ago, looking around at an airport bookshop, I came across Rolf Dobelli’s “The Art of Thinking Clearly” (which, by the way has sold more than 1 million copies).

I am not saying that this is the best book ever, nor it will probably change the way you address problems or deal with decision making (two issues that usually go hand in hand), but it illustrates pretty well a myriad of biases that hinder us to think clearly. Experts call it a “cognitive error”, that is, a systematic deviation from logic- from optimal, rational, reasonable thought and behavior.

Here are my favorite 15 out of the 99 errors and prejudices that the book addresses in short, pointed two to four pages chapters.

• Does Harvard make you smarter? The swimmer’s body illusion; or how the reason behind Harvard’s students’ success is (most probably) the rigorous pre-selection to be accepted at this prestigious university.

• Why you should forget the past: Sunk cost fallacy (a favorite one in project investment management and budgeting). Rational decision-making requires you to forget about the costs incurred to date. No matter how much you have already invested (in terms of money, time, engagement etc.) only your assessment of the future cost and benefits counts.

• Don’t accept free drinks: reciprocity.

• Don’t bow to authority: authority bias. Especially at risk are firms with domineering CEOs where employees are likely to keep their “lesser” opinions to themselves, much to the detriment of the business (I and probably you, have some company you know well or even have worked for in mind).

• Leave your supermodel friends at home: contrast effect.

• Talking about supermodels, what about: Everyone is beautiful at the top: halo effect.

• Why we prefer a wrong map to no map at all: availability bias.

• Why you should keep a diary: hindsight bias.

• Why you systematically overestimate your knowledge and abilities: overconfidence effect (I love this one).

• Never pay your lawyer by the hour: incentive super-response tendency.

• Never judge a decision by its outcome: outcome bias.

• Why teams are lazy: social loafing.

• Be careful what you wish for: hedonic treadmill.

• Why we take aim at young guns: social comparison bias. In other words, A-players hire people even better than themselves, but usually, B-players hire C-players so they can feel superior to them and C-players hire D-players etc. or how if you start hiring B-players you will end with a Z-players organization.

• It is not what you say but how you say it: framing.

If you found more than three of the above-mentioned cases appealing, or are at least interested enough to learn about the remaining 84, I suggest you read the book. Although remember -and this one is also brilliantly described in the book: if 50 million people say something foolish, it is still foolish (Social proof at work).