Book Review (Book 4) – Predictably Irrational

This is a continuation of the books I challenged myself to read to help my career - one a month, for year. You can read my first book review here. The book I chose for September 2011 was: Predictably Irrational, Revised and Expanded Edition: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, by Dan Ariely.

Why I chose this Book:

This is another non-technical book, or even a business book, but I believe that understanding the behavior of others - and more importantly, my own behavior. I’ve heard of this author before, and when I read the book reviews they spoke about the fact that people often do things that don’t make sense - even when they know that the actions don’t make sense. 

What I learned:

I started this book out of the order I had originally selected, since I had put it on hold at the Seattle Public Library and it came in today. Interestingly, it came in an e-book format, which I really like. I can read and take notes at the same time on the Tablet-PC I use (a Lenovo X220).

You have to read the introduction for this book to have its full impact. The author was burned over 70% of his body, and as he slowly recovered, he became an observer of those around him. He was able to watch as intelligent people behaved in ways that were intuitive, but did not produce the goals they really wanted. In other words, their actions (and even thoughts) went against what they really wanted to have. The key to using this book is to recognize this behavior in yourself and others.

The author backs everything up with references to studies, data and other supporting evidence, but does not show that data in the book. If you’re the anal type, you might want more evidence right in the book. For my part, that wasn’t an issue.

I also learned that I need to be self-aware. I read a little in these books on my list each night, and after each reading I was a little more surprised - and sometimes even disbelieving that I would act this way. But in fact, I do - as do we all. It’s quite an eye-opening experience to read this book.

Another interesting topic was the fact of “relativity” - or where you start from in a negotiation. It’s why people who move from a low-cost area (like I did from Florida) to a high-cost one (Like Seattle where I live now) are so shocked by prices, and push back on them so hard. I’ve seen this play out when people are asked to use a pay-for-use model like a cloud system, when they are used to an all-you-can-eat license for on-premise system. Even when you add up all the costs of an on-premise system and show someone how much they spend, they don’t want to believe that. The relative pricing they are used to makes them believe that a cloud model is too expensive.

I have to recommend this book to everyone in the tech industry - or in fact everyone that wants to advance in their career. I found myself over and over not wanting to believe what I was reading - that I would certainly never act in a way that doesn’t make sense. But I do - and we all do. Recognizing these patterns gives you an edge in working smarter, and understanding the people you work for and the ones that work for you.

Raw Notes:

I take notes as I read into OneNote - my favorite note-taking tool. These might not make sense in isolation, but here’s what I wrote down as I read:

  • People do not always act in their own best interests
  • Relativity helps with comparison issues
  • Important to focus on staying objective
  • Arbitrary coherence and anchoring are two behavior motivators
  • People often look for a “middle choice” - hence low/med/high pricing models
  • Theories of motivations are important to investigate further
  • Primary decisions set coherency
  • Bundle with free - Free is a powerful motivator
  • Observation of other’s behavior leads to behavior control
Comments (1)

  1. Grant Fritchey says:

    Hmmm… May have to modify my list. This sounds good. Thanks for sharing.

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