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Critiquing "Blunder"
January 9, 2011 - 7:00pm

There is a section of my (virtual) bookshelf (stored on the Audible/Amazon cloud) that could be titled: "Why You Are an Idiot". When my spouse, kids, boss (or you) asks me how I can be so dumb so often, I can just point to these books.

My most recent addition is, Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions by Zachary Shore.

Blunder has its limitations (see below), but is a great addition to the oeuvre books on human failure. My favorite example of this genre is,Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz

Other books of this type that I've read in the past couple of years include:

The Invisible Gorilla: And Other Ways Our Intuitions Deceive Us by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
Why We Make Mistakes: How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things in Seconds, and Are All Pretty Sure We Are Way Above Average by Joseph T. Hallinan

My next book is,On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind's Hard-Wired Habits by Wray Herbert

Any other "dumb us" books that you can recommend?

In Blunder, Zachary Shore (who has the cool sounding job of professor of national security affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School), sets out 7 big reasons why we get things wrong. The theme that runs through Blunder is that expertise and knowledge are necessary, but not sufficient, conditions for making good decisions.

The 7 cognitive mistakes include:

Exposure Anxiety: Our predilection to project overconfidence as a response to fear or uncertainty, based mostly on our desire not to appear weak.

Infomania: Our tendency to hoard information for ourselves, or ignore information that we don't want to hear.

Static Cling: Our desire for constancy and stability in a changing world, which leaves us unable to grasp when things have changed.

Causefusion: Our propensity to confuse correlation with causation, and to inappropriately assign a narrative to explain unrelated events.

Flatview: Our inclination to see the world in black and white terms, rather than recognizing shades of gray.

Cure-allism: Our proclivity to try and solve diverse problems with a single solution.

Mirror Imaging: Our penchant to transfer out reactions and beliefs on others, thinking that everyone will react to events the way we would.

Shore is not interested in explaining the psychological, biological, or sociological roots of our blunders,. Rather, he gives examples of when people (in government or business) screw up, then tries to understand these errors through the framework of his 7 cognitive mistakes.

Perhaps we should run through the list of 7 each time we make a big decision, but I'm afraid we might end up not making any decisions or taking any actions at all.

What are you reading?


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