The Miserable Human Condition
Class By Paul Fussell

Sway: The Pull of Irrational Behavior

Four word summary: People do stupid shit.  Of course, we all know that.  The question is: How much stupid shit do we do, and why do we do so much of it?  Sway, written by a Harvard-MBA-and-shrink team, examines those questions. 

The Brafman brothers blame much of our irrational behavior on loss aversion, value attribution, and diagnostic bias. 

Loss aversion.  We're are way more afraid of losing than we should be.  How many of us are afraid of losing things that, really, we'd be better off without?

Of course, the data says that loss causes us more pain than winning causes us pleasure.  So maybe it's rational to allow loss aversion to guide us.

Value attribution.  We tend to stick with your initial value judgments of a person or thing.  Why then call this value attribution?  That doesn't really speak to the issue of sticking with judgments.

I think it would be better to describe value attribution thusly: We have a human need to immediately assign some value to everything.  Because we do this quickly, we make a lot of bad decisions.  Moral of the story: Stop pre-judging.  (Except when it's rational to pre-judge.)

Diagnosis bias.  We tend to stick with our initial diagnosis of a person or thin.  (Yeah, it sounds like the same as value attribution.)  Our instinct to stick to our initial diagnosis is so strong that we ignore all contrary evidence.  The discussion of diagnostic bias was the most interesting part of the book.

In Sway, the authors note that when a player was drafted determines how much playing time he will receive his entire career - even when objective data shows other players are better.

I'm sure many of you have stuck with employee you should have canned a long time ago.  Unlike the sunk costs fallacy, you are not saying to yourself, "I have invested too much time into this employee.  I can't let her go."  Rather, you are - consciously or not - sticking by first impression.  "I knew this guy was something special when I first interviewed him.  I gotta keep with this winner." 

Sway examines the above themes and a few more.  I'm lukewarm about the book.  I've never been worse off after having read a book.  But  I can't say Sway rocked my world.

Incidentally, they have a blog.  It's written just like the book.  So if you like what you see there, you'll like the book.

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