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Errornomics: Why We Make Mistakes and What We Can Do To Avoid Them [Kindle Edition]

Joseph T Hallinan
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

How did security staff at LA International Airport miss 75% of bomb-making materials that went through screening? Which way should you turn before joining a supermarket queue? Why should a woman hope it was a man who witnessed her bag being snatched? And what possessed Burt Reynolds to punch a guy with no legs?

Human beings can be stubbornly irrational and wilfully blind ... but at least we're predictably wrong. From minor lapses (why we're so likely to forget passwords) to life-threatening blunders (why anaesthetists used to maim their patients), Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist Joseph T. Hallinan explains the everyday mistakes that shape our lives, and what we can do to prevent them happening.

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"Entertains while it informs. Hallinan brings the science of human behavior to life, showing how it applies to us every day" (Don Norman, author of THE DESIGN OF EVERYDAY THINGS)

"In breezy chapters, Hallinan examines 13 pitfalls that make us vulnerable to mistakes...packing in an impressive range of intriguing and practical real-world examples. A lesson in humility as much as human behavior, Hallinan's study should help readers understand their limitations and how to work with them" (Publishers Weekly)

"Starred Review* What an eye-opener! If you're someone who has trouble remembering the names of people (or common objects), if you seem to forget things almost immediately after you learn them, if your memory of past events frequently turns out to be drastically at odds with the facts, relax: you're not alone. A vastly informative, and for some readers vastly reassuring, exploration of the way our minds work" (David Pitt Booklist US)

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A smart, engaging and eye-opening explanation of why we make mistakes and what we can do to avoid them

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
55 of 56 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars To Err is Really, Really Human 22 Feb. 2009
"Why We Make Mistakes" is the latest entry in a bumper crop of new books about how people make decisions. The author, Joseph Hallinan, is a former writer for the Wall Street Journal and a Pulitzer-prize winner, and his brisk style makes this book a fast and enjoyable read. Think of it as a lengthy version of an intiguing article in the WSJ, and as a perfect book to read while on a long plane flight.

Hallinan's book is essentially a survey of research into why people act the way they do. It turns out that we are biased, "poorly calibrated" (meaning, we often don't know our own limitations), very quick to judge other people on the basis of appearance alone, prone to sticking with old strategies that work poorly in new situations, and generally a lot more irrational than we think we are. "Why We Make Mistakes" is filled with interesting little oddities, such as the fact that most people have an inordinate preference for the number 7 and the color blue and the fact that our memories are typically much poorer than we realize (explaining why eye witness testimony is so unreliable).

Hallinan makes the good point that we need to understand why we make mistakes before we can do anything to prevent them. In the 1980s, for example, one out of every 5,000 people who received anesthesia died. The key to improving this outcome was to recognize that even highly trained, brilliant anesthesiologists make mistakes. At the time, two major models of machine were used to deliver anesthesia--one had a control valve that turned clockwise, another had a valve that turned counterclockwise.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Unlike the similarly suffixed Freakonomics, it doesn't have that slightly snide, we're-so-clever-and-don't-we-know-it tone that makes that book just a little bit insufferable. Instead of trying to demonstrate how all our received wisdom is wrong in as controversial a way as can be mustered, Hallinan's approach seems much calmer. It's still based on statistical evidence, but without the smarminess.

Maybe that's why he's a Pulitzer winner.

Hallinan divides the book into chapters based around different mistakes that we make; being over-optimistic about our abilities, simplifying things in order to understand them, avoiding paying close attention to situations in favour of winging them, and so on. Each chapter has some interesting examples, whether it's psychologists figuring out how to test whether you think you look more attractive than you really do, or concentrating on 'Controlled Flight Into Terrain' aviation disasters. Along the way there's some interesting examples of how these techniques are applied commercially, whether it's printing pictures of attractive female employees on offer letters in order to increase the take-up rate of loans, or how playing appropriate music drives people to purchase either French or German wine.1

There's some very valuable insights about concentration, the benefits (or not) of multi-tasking, and how best to structure your work. It turns out (as we all should have known all along) that paying attention to your email isn't going to make you more productive - you need to be able to work uninterrupted in order to produce quality.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
By Robert Morris TOP 500 REVIEWER
Frankly, until reading this book, I assumed that I understood why people make mistakes. True, several of the causes are obvious: emotional, impulsive decisions made in haste, action without sufficient knowledge, trust in unreliable sources, false assumptions or premises, and so forth. However, most people are vulnerable to basic illusions and/or delusions. (Check out the tabletops illustration devised by Roger Shepard on Page 20.)
As John Hallinan explains so brilliantly in this book, most of the most significant causes are not so obvious and one of them really caught my attention: even when we know we have made a mistake, we reject that fact and often make the same mistake again. Why? Because "we are all afflicted with certain systemic biases in the way we see, remember, and perceive the world around us, and these biases make us prone to commit certain kinds of errors...we just don't know we're biased. Some of these tendencies are so strong that even when we do know about them, we find it hard [if not impossible] to correct for them." Here is a representative selection of phenomena, observations, and insights:

"Understanding the role of context is also extremely important, especially when it comes to remembering things. Memory, it turns out, is often more a reconstruction than a reproduction." (Page 9)

"In one study, radiologists missed up to 90 percent of cancerous tumors that, in retrospect, had been visible `for months or even years.'" (Page 24)

"If we are going to err at something, we would rather err by [begin italics] failing [end italics] to do something." (Page 53)

"It doesn't take much to distract a driver. A two-second glance doubles the risk of an accident." (Page 83)

Note: My first reaction to this item was "So what?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Perfect, purchase arrived really early and in lovely condition thank you, super seller will use again
Published 1 month ago by lynda duncan
5.0 out of 5 stars Now I see.
One of my favourite all time books. Working in healthcare and risk management this is a must to understand human frailties and in-built error programming.
Published 3 months ago by E. Martindale
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Great insight in to various errors explained very lucidly. You would not be making an error in reading this.
Published 8 months ago by Dr.Bangalore Satish
1.0 out of 5 stars Like being patronised by a sociology student
I gave up a little over halfway through this book when I realised it was nothing more than the author stating the obvious. Read more
Published 13 months ago by GeorgeM
4.0 out of 5 stars we'll worth reading
Very readable with some interesting counter-intuitions. The ideas are illustrated largely by US examples which might put off a non-American
Published 17 months ago by Michael Bates
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent
This book is very thought provoking. It challenges our assumptions whist at the same time educating, informing and making us laugh. Really good use of examples throughout.
Published 17 months ago by john kirwan
4.0 out of 5 stars Very thought-provoking
This book was recomended by the Medical Protection Society's 'Casebook' magazine. It certainly makes you think about the nature of the mistakes we all make. Read more
Published 18 months ago by D. Allen
4.0 out of 5 stars Solid overview of decision making errors and biases
While the author brings little that is new to the decision making research, the book does summarize some of the most salient points rather well - you will learn which mechanisms... Read more
Published 18 months ago by AK
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting
Everyone should read this - very interesting about all our bias's that we're not even aware of (although as the book says, we'll probably, incorrectly, end up dismissing them as... Read more
Published 19 months ago by goldilocks
5.0 out of 5 stars Humane, sensible and tolerant
This is a well written book on a theme that is becoming increasingly focused on these days. Basically as humans we cannot think too much, for too long or too accurately. Read more
Published on 22 Mar. 2013 by Dr. Peter Davies
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