Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Review: You're About to Make a Terrible Mistake: How Biases Distort Decision-Making and What You Can Do to Fight Them

You're About to Make a Terrible Mistake: How Biases Distort Decision-Making and What You Can Do to Fight Them You're About to Make a Terrible Mistake: How Biases Distort Decision-Making and What You Can Do to Fight Them by Olivier Sibony
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You’re About to Make a Terrible Mistake is a book about why organizations make bad decisions, and how to create processes and environments where we can make better ones, understanding the value of process and collaboration over any specific individual’s leadership.

Much of the advice here will seem familiar if you have studied ideas about how we make decisions but the context of strategic decision making is new.  The audience and examples are geared towards strategic business decisions, but this will give you insight into how you and others make decisions that might not be optimal in all aspects of your life.

The advice is obvious and common sense in retrospect, but obvious and common sense doesn’t always mean visible and common. I’ve come across few groups that follow even the general principles here, much less the entire framework. 

Sibony references agile organizations, and while his meaning isn’t the same as “Agile” in the context of software development, If you are familiar with Agile Software Development practices, many of the concepts, and some of the practices may seem familiar. Agile Retrospective frameworks, for example, follow a process framework that helps teams avoid many of the problematic decision making biases. 

A recurring theme in the book is the importance of process and collaboration over any specific individual’s leadership. In my experience process can make the difference between success and failure for a team, and this book drives the value of process and collaboration home. And Sibony notes that circumstance plays a role: The same good plan can succeed or fail depending upon factors beyond your control, and the same bad plan might work surprisingly well if one is lucky. Sibony tells us how to set up processes so that our big strategic decisions factor in these factors so that we have a reasonable sense of risks involved.

A key part of a good decision process is the definition and role of a leader.  Sibony points out that much of the advice he presents goes counter to the model of the certain, definitive, action-oriented leader. For better decisions we need to to step away from that idea. While final decisions may rest with an individual leader,  the process to get there must be collaborative. 

The book ends with a summary of the key concepts, and good bibliography, and notes. You may well find your self finishing this book with a much longer reading list than when you started.

Whether you are a senior manager, a team lead,  or active in a volunteer organization, the principles in this book will help you create frameworks to enable better decisions. And as an individual you will gain insight how to understand how others make decisions, as well as how you might think about how you make important decisions.

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Sunday, October 11, 2020

Review: The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win

The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win The Biggest Bluff: How I Learned to Pay Attention, Master Myself, and Win by Maria Konnikova
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

On the surface, The Biggest Bluff seems to be simply about the author’s adventure learning about poker in an attempt to compete in the World Series of Poker: A Personal Quest story. But the book isn’t about Poker. And while it is a personal story, it’s more than just that. It’s about how we make decisions, and Poker turns out to be a remarkably good lens to understand how people make choices in situations which combine uncertainty and experience.

I was surprised to learn useful things that relate to my daily life like the impact of implicit bias and emotion on decision making, and the relationship between luck and skill in being successful.

The lessons here will give you insight into many facets of your life. While, poker may not be a good model for life, it is, according to Konnikiva, a way to develop skills important to ones life.

My one complaint is that I wish that there was an appendix with pointers to some of the research and the. references she cited. This is minor as a web search is easy enough to do, but was something I missed.

The Biggest Bluff tells an engaging story, and by understanding the path Konnikova follows you will learn about how you make decisions and interact with others. And you may learn a bit about poker along the way

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Monday, October 5, 2020

Review: Humankind: A Hopeful History

Humankind: A Hopeful History Humankind: A Hopeful History by Rutger Bregman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Humankind is an optimistic take on human nature  grounded in Science , Philosophy, and History. The author explains why humans are intrinsically good. He isn’t naive, and acknowledges that bad things happen but he explains that we tend to focus on and remember the bad things. Bad news tends to get more attention and play and thus reenforces this dynamic leaning to a downward spiral -- Good news stories don’t go as viral as bad news ones, and the banal, everyday good things people do don’t get reported. 

All bad news isn’t just a case of it getting our attention, and Bregman gives us some insight into why hate, for example, can spread in some cultures. In some cases, it is our desire  to be good, to belong, and to be collaborative can lead to us to follow  people acting in ways that are contrary to that. Even empathy -- which seems like a good thing -- can cause us to focus on the wrong things at times.

We also learn why widely spread research results, such as  “The Stanford Prison Experiment,” “No Broken Windows,” and  “The Tragedy of the Commons” are at best highly incomplete and at worst, just wrong.  Many of these ideas that assume that people  are motivated by self interest, and seek power are often based on, well, assumptions about other people (because we often believe that we are different). We also learn about why less restrictive prisons can be more safe, and have less long term costs (and how the US almost adopted a model common in Norway). You also learn that the fabled 1914 Christmas Truce, after which English and German forces refused to fight each other, was not unique in history. 

One thing I really enjoyed about the book -- once I got used to it as it is very different from many similar books -- is that walks through the evolution of ideas.  You might be tempted to highlight and share some insight, only to read a paragraph later a “wait, there’s more!”  style discussion. Which makes sense, as human nature and interactions are complex.

The book resonate with things I’ve long thought, in particular that  forming connections is essential to reducing intolerance, and that organizational dynamics affect well being and productivity, and that it’s often worth giving people the benefit of the doubt before assuming bad intentions. This book gave me a good sense of the historical and scientific basis for thinking that these are not crazy ideas (or at least ideas that only make sense in the contexts I have experience in). Similarly it gave me some sense of awareness to detect when my optimistic nature could possibly lead me astray.

In terms of structure, the first half of the book makes the case for goodness with a walk through history.  The second half of the book interweaves stories and examples that provide guidance on how you can apply the information in the book in your personal, work, and community life.

Part history, part scientific survey, and part philosophical argument for the goodness of humans, Humankind will generate ideas for you to think about, and ideas for things you can try to do to change your approach to interacting with others.

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