Sunday, April 22, 2018

Book Review: Sway

This is a captivating little book about the Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori and Rom Brafman.  It is a book about psychology and why we often do things that make absolutely no sense.  In it they outline several psychological reactions – emotional reactions – that cause us to make irrational choices. 

  1.  People will go to great lengths to avoid possible losses.  This particular reaction played itself out at our house in the late 1990’s.  I’m sure many of you remember when the dot-com world came crashing down.  Karl and I had just ventured out into the investment world by buying some stocks recommended to us by a broker I met through work.  We bought Lucent Technologies for an enormous price – and not a month later it started a significant downward spiral.  Karl – being the thrifty person that he is – said we should hold on to it, it would come back up soon.  We finally sold it over a year later, after we had lost over 80% of our investment.  If we had interrogated reality we would have known that the likelihood of the stock revival was slim to none, and we would have preserved as much of our capital as was possible.  The decision was irrational – because he didn’t want to lose the bit of money we had lost at the time. 
  2. Being committed to doing what you have always done.  This is all about being unwilling to change your strategy even when you know your actions are doing more harm than good.  A perfect example of this is shown within the book as they discuss both LBJ and Bush’s unwillingness to stop unpopular war efforts against Vietnam and Iraq respectively.  This tendency is also what makes people resist change even when they are miserable – because it is familiar.
  3. Value attribution:  Our tendency to imbue someone or something based on perceived value, rather than objective data.  There is one experiment I have read about several times that sticks with me, and is repeated within this book.  The Washington Post did a field study around this very tendency by asking Joshua Bell, a master violinist, to dress in jeans and a baseball cap, and play his $3.5 million Stradivarius violin in the L’Enfant Plaza subway station.  Over 1,097 people walked past as he played, and only four stopped to listen (2 of which recognized him).  What most people heard was “street music”.  This reminds me of a gentleman I saw standing in an alleyway in downtown San Francisco singing Opera.  He had the most beautiful voice I had heard outside of Luciano Pavarotti, and no one but me was listening to him.  It also accounts for the phenomena of Susan Boyle from Britain’s Got Talent.  It is astounding to me how much we will walk away from because of the venue or the “worth” of the person presenting the idea.  This tendency compromises our ability to be rational in very significant ways; the value we attribute to something fundamentally changes our perception. 
  4. Diagnosis bias, our propensity to label people, ideas or things based upon our initial opinion of them, and our inability to change those judgments once we have made them.  This tendency is so strong that a single word has the ability to sway us.  For instance, the difference in an introduction of a speaker between being “warm” or “cold” determines whether the audience will even connect with her.  How does this affect us in the business world, particularly when we are going through interviews?  Think about the questions you get asked during a job interview – which ones actually pertain to your ability to do the job?  And, isn’t that the most important aspect of a job interview and a decision to hire somebody?  Most job interviews ask about your strengths, weaknesses, goals, why you left your last job – and while this is important to you and ultimately the employer – it doesn’t answer the question as to whether you have a solid grasp of skills required to do the job.  Employers should ask about skills – and then begin to determine if your strengths and values mesh with theirs.  By reversing the process, we are often looking for people “just like us” when in fact, diversity with a willingness to be open to collaboration and teamwork may be the better answer.
  5. When we brand or label people, they will begin to take on the characteristics we have assigned to them.  One of the most telling experiences I have ever had with this tendency was about eight years ago when a young woman I was mentoring told me a telling story, and asked a simple question.  Her immediate supervisor had a tendency to dismiss her ideas and pit her against her peers.  This made her feel less than adequate, and reluctant to take risks.  She observed that when we were meeting she didn’t feel that way, and wondered why.  I told her “It’s because I could see the possibilities, and I believed in her.  We further explored those possibilities, set goals, and she has achieved her vision of being a Senior Manager within the company and doing extremely well.  Two different viewpoints, and two different people who “branded” differently.  How does this work?  It’s all about the dance – what we believe about the other person comes out in how we interact with them – and they respond in a similar fashion.  We become chameleons. 
  6. Our deep rooted belief in fairness and how far we will go to defend it.  Couple this with our cultural history, and you will get varying results.  In the United States, we deeply value being heard and being allowed to communicate our thoughts and ideas, and being kept “in the know.”  It becomes important to communicate the why, what, who and when along the say – we get better results, especially when “fair” isn’t fair.
  7. Money and the willingness to help others motivate us differently, and rarely at the same time.  Yesterday I posted a blog entitled “What Really Motivates People”.  Money is not generally it, but when it takes over you can get really bizarre results.  Let me give you an example.  In the contact center of a company I was working with at the time, a performance incentive (bonus) was created around the number of calls taken and completed on a daily average.  The number was set quite high, and good customer service was rarely attainable at those numbers.  The service workers soon figured out that when they took a call, and then transferred it on to someone in the processing areas, they were given credit for the call.  The result:  the customer service call  center became a switchboard with 50+ operators re-routing telephone calls.  The customer service representatives got bonuses and the processing staff were overwhelmed with telephone calls they were not staffed to handle. 
  8. Group Conformity.  No one wants to be the sole voice of dissent.  Most often this stops us from sharing our thoughts and ideas at all.  However, if we consciously make an effort for everyone in the group to give their opinions and ideas, and then discuss everything with openness and a willingness to change our minds, the group dynamic becomes one of consensus even in the event of disagreement.  One person, willing to speak up, breaks the bubble that pulls the group together and starts rational discussions between supporters and observers.  

How do we overcome these tendencies?  I encourage you to read the book to find out and get the full effect of the stories told to explain them.  It is a book worth reading for those who are leading groups and running businesses. 

Georgia Feiste, owner of Collaborative Transitions Coaching, Inc., located in Lincoln, NE, is a personal growth and leadership transition coach, writer, and workshop facilitator.  She is also a Usui Reiki Master.  Georgia specializes in career, business and personal life transitions for people seeking change in their life.  Her passion is success grounded in purpose and passion, standards of integrity and priorities in life.  You can also find her on her websites , and  Georgia can be reached at (402) 304-1902 or you can schedule a 30 minute consultation via Automated Appointment.

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