Sunday, April 12, 2009

Book Review "Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions"

I just finished a great book called “Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions” by Zachary Shore. The book was a terrific historical study of both bad and good decisions and the differences between them. The author has a doctorate in Modern History from Oxford and performed postdoctoral research at Harvard’s Olin Institute for Strategic Studies. He teaches at the Naval Postgraduate School.

Dr. Shore uses numerous examples from history and politics and a very engaging writing style to demonstrate that the key to good results is good decision making, and that good communication underlies those decisions.

Dr. Shore indicates that Failure to Collaborate is a recurring theme in bad decisions, and that one reason that people fail to collaborate is their fear of being perceived as weak. This is related to what I call in the Pathfinder classes “The Kindergarten Model” of communication, in which we point out that the school system in North America tends to promote individual achievement over team achievement. You may remember the “advocacy versus inquiry” models that we discuss, that detail the key characteristics of a collaborative discussion and how we describe the mechanics of critical discussions in detail.

Another reason that smart people make bad decisions, according to Dr Shore, is over-simplification of cause and under-analysis of analogies. In other words, bad decisions result when we fail to recognize all the factors that contribute to a situation and try to attribute events in a complex system to just a few factors. The act of thoroughly analyzing the causal chain of events can surface subtle differences between the way things appear and the way they actually are that drive us to new ways of looking at them. This is accomplished by the “Critical Discussion” model we use at Pathfinder.

Lastly, I’ll mention that the Dr. Shore makes a great point that curiosity and empathy (characteristically absent in he advocacy model) are key ingredients for the best decisions made throughout history. And predictably, their absence from the decision-making process nearly always contributes to regrettable conclusion.

Verdict? I would highly recommend this book to any of you that are serious in your study of decision making. AND I would recommend you sign up for the summer round of Pathfinder Communication Public Workshops that I will be announcing in Three Weeks.

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