February 18, 2016

Book Reflection: The Art of Thinking Clearly

I bought this book, written by Rolf Dobelli, on a whim while browsing in a book store waiting for my wife. The subject matter looked interesting and the praise for the book was convincing. 

Mr Dobelli would have likely detested my purchase decision, since it was rather impulsive and made purely based on praise that was clearly put on the book cover to sell the very same book it praises!

The book is ninety-nine chapters long with each chapter no longer than three pages, making it quite easy to read and consume. Alas, because of this - the bite sized nature of the chapters - it took me much longer to finish reading this book than it would normally take me to read a book of similar length. Maybe because it gave me a false sense of fulfillment completing a few chapters a day when in reality I had read no more than a couple of pages.

Despite this, I enjoyed the book as it talked about a lot of things that escape me, intentionally or unintentionally, whenever I go about my daily routines and go through my decision making process.

I share below some of my notes while reading the book:
  • On action bias - Apparently, this is built into our genes. Early humans needed to react and take action immediately in order to survive. Thinking too much, would be deadly. Today, people still tend to want to do something, anything, just to avoid doing nothing. 
  • On association bias - Human brains constantly make connections. This includes negative association between people and bad news aka "shoot the messenger" syndrome. As leaders, we need to overcompensate for this by fostering a culture that encourages people to bring bad news forward. This is the only way we learn the true situation instead of fooling ourselves to think everything is perfect.
  • On decision fatigue - This is fairly simple. Making decisions is physically taxing. So if you want a positive decision in your favor, present as early as possible in the day when the decision maker still has the energy to digest what you have to say.
  • On motivation crowding - Money does not always motivate. And if you use money, be prepared to demotivate people in the long run as it surprisingly cheapens the activity akin to people feeling like they are being bought to do something (instead of doing it willingly). Along the same lines, don't bribe your kids!
  • On the inability to close doors - This is something I'm guilty of. I always want to have as many options as possible. In the long run, it gets tiring and time consuming thinking about all possible options and outcomes. Learn how to close doors and limit options, focus on one thing and live with the consequences of the decision made.
  • On social comparison bias - This is something I firmly believe in: hire and work with people who are better than you. Many people feel threatened by people who are younger, better and smarter and therefore surround themselves with people who are not as smart as themselves. I don't. In the long-run, I will benefit more by surrounding myself with smart people.
  • On the black swan - Aside from having the same name as the book by Nassim Taleb (this is on my reading list btw), reading this chapter was eye opening. Employees rarely catch a ride on the positive black swan. What to do? Take a risk and put yourself in a position to benefit by becoming a creator. Not easy for me to say as an employee.
  • On domain dependence - Many of us know this: book smarts does not = to street smarts. Now, let's all try our best to apply what we know to be right in real life.
  • On envy - This is something probably more prevalent today in the age of social media. We need to stop envy. Period. Envy is useless, with no single advantage to be gained. Let's all stop comparing ourselves to our neighbors, friends, family, colleagues. Create a niche and become an expert in that niche to find contentment and fulfillment. Buying more things will never satisfy your envy.
  • On the illusion of skill - Luck plays a bigger role than many successful people would like to admit to others. Of course, it takes away from all the skills they have developed and hard work that they put in. However, skills and hard work are necessary but not sufficient to find success. Luck and timing play a big part in the overall equation. 
So, have you read The Art of Thinking Clearly? If you have, let me know your thoughts. I would love to hear from others. Next up on my reading list is Misbehaving by Richard H. Thaler.