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Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counterintuition [Hardcover]

Michael J Mauboussin
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 Oct 2009
Leaders in all fields-business, medicine, law, government-make crucial decisions every day. The harsh truth is that they mismanage many of those choices, even though they have the right intentions. These blunders take a huge toll on leaders, their organizations, and the people they serve.

Why is it so hard to make sound decisions? We fall victim to simplified mental routines that prevent us from coping with the complex realities inherent in important judgment calls. Yet these cognitive errors are preventable.

Sharing vivid stories from business and beyond, Mauboussin offers powerful rules for avoiding each error. And he explains how to know when it's time to think twice-to question your reasoning and adopt decision-making strategies that are far more effective, even if they seem counterintuitive.

Master the art of thinking twice, and you'll start spotting dangerous mental errors-in your own decisions and in those of others. Equipped with this awareness, you'll soon begin making sounder judgment calls that benefit (rather than hurt) your organization.



Product details

  • Hardcover: 204 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business School Press (1 Oct 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1422176754
  • ISBN-13: 978-1422176757
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 2 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 454,833 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

The Bottom Line: An insightful, well-researched discussion of our all-too-familiar cognitive failures. --BusinessWeek, Decemebr14, 2009

Indeed this is a book for everyone...challenging and interesting and it will prove to be invaluable as well.
--Professional Manager, January 1 2010

About the Author

Michael J. Mauboussin is Chief Investment Strategist at Legg Mason Capital Management. He has been an adjunct professor of finance at Columbia Business School since 1993. BusinessWeek's Guide to the Best Business Schools (2001) highlighted Michael as one of the school's "Outstanding Faculty," a distinction received by only seven professors.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
By Robert Morris TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Michael Mauboussin asserts, "Smart people make poor decisions because they have the same factory settings on their mental software as the rest of us, and that software isn't designed to cope with many of today's problems...Beyond the problem of mental software, smart people make bad decisions because they harbor false beliefs." What to do? I agree with Mauboussin that the most valuable lessons in life tend to be revealed by failure that results from errors of judgment. For example, consider this familiar observation about betrayal of confidence: "First time, shame on you; second time, shame on me." To improve one's judgment, to reduce the number if one's mistakes (if not eliminate them), Mauboussin suggests a three step plan, suggested by the acronym PRA: First, Prepare by acknowledging and analyzing one's mistakes in order to understand their cause(s), nature, extent, and impact; next, to Recognize each mistake in context, to gain "situational awareness," in order to recognize the kinds of problems one faces, what the risks are, and which tools are needed to make smart decisions; finally, Apply what one has been learned in order to mitigate one's potential mistakes by building or refining a set of mental tools to cope with the realities if life."

"Many of these tips [provided in the book] involve keeping your intuition in check while using an approach that is counterintuitive." Mauboussin makes no claim to immunity from various cognitive mistakes and duly acknowledges that he still falls "for every one I describe in the book. My personal goal [one he hopes the reader will also select] is to recognize when I enter a danger zone while trying to make a decision and to slow down when I do. Finding the proper point of view at the appropriate time is critical.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't THINK TWICE about buying this book !!! 29 Oct 2009
Format:Hardcover
regard decision making as a fundamental skill in life. It's always been a mystherie to me why books on decision making do not attract a large audience. As the author writes: There's a funny paradox with decision making. Almost everyone realizes how important it is, yet very few people practice (let alone read about it).

THINK TWICE is a fantastic book for people interested in decision making. In particular, why we often fail and how we can improve our skills. Mauboussin offers deep insights into the topic. It's not a dummies book. Readers should expect academic rigor in all of Mauboussin's books. The reader finds a framework for thinking twice without a detailed structure. In particular the last chapter, Time to Think Twice", the author offers some guidance in how we can improve our decision making skills immediately.

In my opinion, there used to be only one outstanding book on decision making: ,Smart Choices`. For practical purposes in decision making, like how to use decision trees, it's still the best book in the market. But ,Think Twice` offers a lot more on the subject. In particular why we make mistakes regarding decisions. Now we got two brilliant books on the subject.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Helpful guide to better decision making 30 Nov 2009
By Rolf Dobelli TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Research indicates that people buy more German wine when a store's sound system plays German music in the background and more French wine when it plays French music. However, shoppers claim that the background music has no effect on their wine choices. Most people think that they make rational decisions, even if they do not. In this example, irrelevant, low-level sensory input determines people's choices. Michael J. Mauboussin, a finance professor and investment strategist, wants to help people make better decisions. In his book, he details the most common decision-making mistakes and suggests practical techniques you can use to avoid them. getAbstract recommends this book to people who want to increase their awareness of their own irrationality and, especially, to managers in decision-making positions, whose mistakes may have ripple effects throughout their organizations and even beyond.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  56 reviews
131 of 136 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Think Twice Because Your Habits and Mind Tend Not To Let You 27 Sep 2009
By James East - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Over the millennia, our brains have been developed to be the most energy conserving part of our bodies due, in part, that our distant forefathers had to make quick decisions of friend or foe. Therefore, we rarely take time, and energy, to think or rethink things over. If one does not spend a little extra time to think thru your important decisions, you tend to be on "Thin Ice". For example, take another look at the title of the book, did you notice the graphical cryptogram ?!

This book is about mistakes and bad decisions of smart people, business executives, doctors, and others. Many of the reasons all these people and professions make bad decisions, in part, is that we all have a similar framework of having the same mental software basics. This can and does lead to false beliefs and bad decisions due to mental traps as the author describes. These default false beliefs that we all have inherited prevent clear thinking. As the author continues to describe throughout the book, "To make good decisions, you frequently must think twice - and that is something our minds would rather not do."

The book is a nice enjoyable read, very clear with the necessary psychology jargon, and has a very nice set of notes to follow-up on if you would like. All in, though short, this book comes highly recommended for any bookshelf on how to make better decisions.

As a side note: I have pointed out in other reviews, of other books below, that are in the same genre and which are some of my favorites. So if you like this somewhat introductory book, then you may be interested in more hidden traps our minds fall into, or other social influences, I provide the following recommendations:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (polymath classic), by Robert B. Cialdini
How We Know What Isn't So (very good), by Thomas Gilovich
Mean Markets and Lizard Brains (Hidden Gem), by Terry Burnham
The Psychology of Judgment and Decision Making (Classic), by Scott Plous
Poor Charlie's Almanack: The Wit and Wisdom of Charles T. Munger (Charlie's Insights) by Peter D. Kaufman.
Good reading and enjoy :)
65 of 65 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Upgrade your decision making process 10 Jan 2010
By Stephen Kawaja - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Think Twice represents the next step in Mauboussin's beneficial quest to help all of us identify the mistakes we make and provide the tools to fix them. It takes many of Mauboussin's past ideas, condenses a vast array of additional sources, and puts them in a manifesto on how to dodge the pitfalls of poor decision making. Mauboussin has managed to write a book that is interesting for everyone. Deceptively short at 143 pages (with 33 pages of notes and references), I recommend readers slow their pace to digest this book and internalize the tools and countless real world examples used to clarify and illustrate.

"No one wakes up thinking, "I am going to make bad decisions today." Yet we all make them." Think Twice outlines eight common mistakes, tries to help the reader recognize these in context, then provide ideas on how to mitigate your own tendency to repeat these same mistakes. Certain ideas recur throughout the text, including using data and models to inform decisions; viewing many real world situations as complex adaptive systems; as well as appreciating context and luck.

Each chapter focuses on one key error we make:
+Chapter 1: Viewing our problem as unique. Others have usually faced the same decisions we face and we can learn from their results to get to the right answer - for example in corporate M&A, you can look at how other similar deals have performed.
+Chapter 2: We fail to consider enough alternative options under pressure because we have models in our head that oversimplify the world; usually that helps us make quick decisions but often it causes us to leave out alternative choices which could be better. Incentives and unconscious anchoring on irrelevant information contribute to this tunnel vision.
+Chapter 3: An uncritical reliance on experts. Experts are people like us and are subject to all the same bias and error. While this has been covered by Cialdini and others, Mauboussin focuses on the solution - "computers and collectives remain underutilized guides for decision making." We see this idea now in practice in the development of prediction markets for Hollywood movies to who will be the next Senator from North Dakota.
+Chapter 4: "Situation influences our decisions enormously." We all underestimate how much we are influenced not only by others, but by our own feelings.
+Chapter 5: Cause and effect reasoning fails when systems are complex because the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Focusing on why individuals in a system do something - an investor in the market, an ant in a colony, or birds in a flock - does not help explain how the entire system performs. Understand the rules that govern the entire system, rather than the rules that drive the individual participants.
+Chapter 6: We try to apply general rules in contexts that are not appropriate. In real life, decisions are specific. As Mauboussin says, "it depends".
+Chapter 7: Small changes in a system (or an input) can lead to a large change in output. We mess things up by assuming the same input will always have the same output. One quotation I particularly liked in this chapter was from Peter Bernstein - "Consequences are more important than probabilities."
+Chapter 8: We forget about reversion to the mean. "Any system that combines skill and luck will revert to the mean over time." Ignoring this makes people think they are special and that the rules of probability don't apply to them. This is reinforced by the "halo effect" - when someone is doing well in any field, people and the press lionize that individual and report on the multitude of genius they have ...but when they revert to the mean, all of a sudden that same person is viewed as incompetent. Mauboussin's own colleague Bill Miller faced this same perception cycle, and emerged with a halo in 2009.

Mauboussin concludes the book by summarizing an effective action plan - to put it simply, Mauboussin admonishes us to Think Twice before we make a serious decision to ensure we don't fall victim to any of these pernicious errors.
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A useful contribution to this genre 21 Feb 2010
By Irfan A. Alvi - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
There are now many good books available on why we make errors in judgment and decision making. This book represents Michael Mauboussin's contribution to this genre, and I think he has done a good job in pulling together a lot of information from a diverse range of credible sources. The information he presents has broad application, though he has a slight emphasis on business and investing applications (his own area of specialization). The book is also a fairly easy and quick read.

Perhaps the best way to describe the content of the book is to summarize the key points, roughly in the order they appear in the book:

(1) "Think twice" to avoid errors in judgment and decision making, especially in situations where stakes are high.

(2) Learn from the experiences of others in similar situations (making use of statistics when possible), rather than relying only on your own perspective, and don't be excessively optimistic about expecting to beat the odds.

(3) Beware of anecdotal information, since it can paint a biased picture. Related to this point, don't infer patterns which don't exist, especially when the available data is limited, and avoid the bias of favoring evidence which supports your beliefs while ignoring contradictory evidence (deliberately seek dissenting opinions if necessary).

(4) Avoid making decisions while at an emotional extreme (stress, anger, fear, anxiety, greed, euphoria, grief, etc.).

(5) Beware of how incentives, situational pressures, and the way choices are presented may consciously or subconsciously affect behavior and shape decisions.

(6) In areas where the track record of "experts" is poor (eg, in dealing with complex systems), rely on "the wisdom of crowds" instead. Such crowds will generally perform better when their members are capable and genuinely diverse, and if dissent is tolerated (otherwise the crowd will be prone to groupthink).

(7) Use intuition where appropriate (eg, stable linear systems with clear feedback), but recognize its limitations otherwise (eg, when dealing with complex systems).

(8) Avoid overspecialization, aiming to have enough generalist background to draw on diverse sources of information.

(9) Make appropriate use of the power of information technology.

(10) Overcome inertia by asking "If we did not do this already, would we, knowing what we now know, go into it?"

(11) Because complex systems have emergent properties (the whole is more than the sum of the parts), avoid oversimplifying them with reductionistic models (simulation models are often helpful), remember that the behavior of components is affected by the context of the system, and beware of unintended consequences when manipulating such systems.

(12) Remember that correlation doesn't necessarily indicate causality.

(13) Remember that the behavior of some systems involves nonlinearities and thresholds (bifurcations, instabilities, phase transitions, etc.) which can result in a large quantitative change or a qualitative change in system behavior.

(14) When dealing with systems involving a high level of uncertainty, rather than betting on a particular outcome, consider the full range of possible outcomes, and employ strategies which mitigate downside risks while capturing upside potential.

(15) Because of uncertainties and heterogeneities, luck often plays a role in success or failure, so consider process as much as outcomes and don't overestimate the role of skill (or lack thereof). A useful test of how much difference skill makes in a particular situation is to ask how easy it is to lose on purpose.

(16) Remember that luck tends to even out over time, so expect outcomes to often "revert to the mean" (eventually move close to the average). But this isn't always the case, since outliers can also occur, especially when positive feedback processes are involved (eg, in systems in which components come to coordinate their behavior); in a business context, remember to make a good first impression.

(17) Make use of checklists to help ensure that important things aren't forgotten.

(18) To scrutinize decisions, perform a "premortem" examination. This involves assuming that your decision hasn't worked out, coming up with plausible explanations for the failure, and then revising the decision accordingly to improve the likelihood of a better outcome.

While this book doesn't really present any new material, I still found it to be a good resource, so I recommend it. After all, this subject matter is important and practical, yet also counterintuitive, so it makes sense to read many books to help these insights sink in and actually change one's habits.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Mauboussin Does It Again! 14 Oct 2009
By G. S. Savage - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Michael Mauboussin has done it again, as the Chief Investment Strategist at Legg Mason Capital Management and professor at Columbia Business School is out with a provocative and page-turning book about how to improve your decision making. Mauboussin's Expectations Investing focused more on the nuts and bolts of investing, while Think Twice's precursor, More Than You Know, explored psychology, strategy and the science of money management. The latest work, Think Twice, delves into how to actually improve decision making and even exploit the behavioral pitfalls that others may fall into. Mauboussin's experience within the field of behavioral finance becomes immediately obvious when reading this book, and Mauboussin serves as a unique guide for readers looking both to improve their thinking process in a practical way and gain a more holistic picture of how their mind works.

As a reader, I found the book to be engaging and entertaining, with stories serving to make the relevant behavioral points. I flew through the book and decided I needed to read it again. I now feel like I have a greater awareness of how I think and the all-too-common errors in judgment I might make without due consideration. The key for me has been to make sure I am aware of when I am in the crosshairs and could potentially make a sub-optimal decision. I then make sure I slow down and apply some of the lessons from the book in the hopes of making a better decision. No matter what I always try to make sure I am aware of what factors are leading me to make the decision I am making so that I can ultimately analyze what might have made me do a particular thing on a particular day. I view such a project as an effort to improve one's decision-making process, for the long term. This book provides a framework for such an undertaking and does so in an easily understandable and pragmatic way.
40 of 47 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars So bad, I returned the Kindle version. 24 Jun 2010
By Eric William - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
While the book was an interesting read - it explains WHY people makes mistakes - it done NOT teach you how to "Harness the Power of Counterintuition." In fact, the last chapter "Conclusion" offers little way to protect oneself from the errors in thinking the book brings up.

The stuff on regression towards mean was good, but is well documented in the most basic college stats course and many business books.

I was looking for more about HOW to AVOID the mistakes, not just stories about the mistakes.

I think other reviewers focused on the academic discussion of what people do that is wrong with their thinking. While that is fine, the book promises that readers will learn a way avoid these mistakes. That is, the book fails to leave the reader with any "power" or framework to make better decisions.
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