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4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behaviour
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on 14 September 2009
Two-word review: it's great!

Yes, it can be anecdotal, but in between the anecdotes are interesting and completely relevant descriptions of fascinating research undertaken on effective advertising, diagnostic bias and... "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire".

It makes its points, does a quick summing up and is over in 180 pages. Short, sweet and highly recommended.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 13 November 2009
The Brothers Brafman are like the Brothers Heath (Chip and Dan, co-authors of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others and forthcoming Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard) in that they seem to have an insatiable curiosity about what may, at first, seem to be aberrational human behavior but is in fact commonplace. In their book Sway, the Brafmans seek answers to questions such as these: Why would skilled and experienced physicians make decisions that contradict their years of training? What psychological forces underlie our own irrational behaviors? How do these forces creep up on us? When and why are we most vulnerable to them? How do they shape our business and personal relationships? When and how do they put finances, even our lives, at risk? And why don't we realize when we're being swaying?

The Brafmans obviously have a sense of humor. How else to explain chapter titles such as "The Swamp of Commitment" in which they discuss how Florida's then football coach, Steve Spurrier, dominated the SEC conference because the other coaches in the conference were loss averse and committed to a "grind-it-out-and-hold-in-to-the-ball offensive strategy. He played to win; they played not to lose. He introduced the "Fun-n-Gun" offense that scored more points in less time and attracted better recruits. In anther chapter, "The Hobbit and the Missing Link," they focus on a precocious young Dutch student named Eugene Dubois (1858-1940) who -- after earning his degree in medicine, getting marriage, and starting a career as well as a family -- decided to seek what was then believed to be the missing link between apes and the more humanlike Neanderthals. He found it in the East Indies but both he and his discovery was largely ignored. Why? Because his contemporaries were firmly committed to a certain view of evolution that Dubois' discovery challenged. Moreover, "there was another force at play. Here's where commitment merges with the sway of `value attribution': our tendency to imbue someone or something with certain qualities based on perceived value, rather than on objective data."(This is one of the eight deceptions that Phil Rosenzweig discusses in his book, The Halo Effect.) The Brafmans also cite a more contemporary example of how value attribution works and how it swayed the anthropological community. In Washington, D.C. on a January morning in 2007, Joshua Bell (one of the world's finest violinists) performed for 43 minutes in the L'Enfant Plaza subway station. "Here was one of best musicians in the world playing in the subway station for free, but no one seemed to care."

As Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman explain in the Preface, their objective in this book is to explore "several of the psychological forces that derail rational thinking. Wherever we looked - across different sectors, countries, and cultures - we saw different people being swayed in very similar ways. We're all susceptible to the sway of irrational behaviors. But by better understanding the deductive pull of these forces, we'll be less likely to fall victim to them in the future." They fully achieve this objective with a book I consider to be a brilliant achievement. Bravo!

Those who share my high regard for this book are urged to check out Ori Brafman's The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations (co-authored with Rod Beckstrom) and the aforementioned books by the Brothers Heath as well as Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational, Martin Lindstrom's Buyology, Gregory Berns's Iconoclast, Roger Martin's The Opposable Mind, Leonard Mlodinow's The Drunkard's Walk, Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan, and Joseph Murphy's The Power of Your Subconscious Mind.
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on 1 May 2013
This is an exceptionally easy book to read: in fact, as it's already a small book, that's the main reason why I've given it 3 rather than 5 stars. I read the book in one evening (in less than two hours), but the stories and examples given are very well put together and coherent. If you're a slow reader, add an extra star.

What would make this book gain the extra two stars? More content, more examples, and a little less "context bias". What do I mean by context bias? Well, whilst the stories are true, they do omit a few little-known facts that would actually sway you AWAY from what the authors are saying. I won't give examples, as that'll spoil the stories for the reader (and they are very well told stories). Nevertheless, the authors look like they are onto something, so I give them the benefit of the doubt in that statistically what they're talking about does make sense (I write from a mathematician's point of view in that respect).

The book has an American bias, as I didn't know what drafting was (in basketball). The book gives an extremely brief description of drafting, but no content in how it works in the real world - I had to do a Google search and look up 'drafting' on Wikipedia to really understand why the story about drafting was relevant to the book. It's kind of like if this were a UK book, not explaining the offside rule in football ('soccer') to non-football followers.

Do I recommend this book?
If you like a different take on how people operate, YES.
If you like well told stories, a definite YES.

All in all, it's a good read: it lasts as long as a standard film, but much cheaper. But weirdly I felt "short-changed" once I finished reading it, a similar feeling to when you watch a film and at the end you're told "it was all a dream".
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on 8 June 2008
Why would a seasoned pilot, the head of KLM's safety program, ignore his co-pilot and attempt a takeoff in fog at an unfamiliar airport, causing the worst air disaster in history? Why did the co-pilot, who had done exactly the right thing when he reminded his captain that the flight had not been cleared for takeoff, fail to repeat his warning when the pilot pressed ahead?

The collision at Tenerife airport cost the lives of 584 people. Using that accident as their starting point, the Brafman brothers explore the psychological forces that cause people to take large risks to avoid small losses, to judge people and situations by first impressions despite subsequent inconsistent evidence, and to ignore objections from dissenters.

"Sway" is the latest in an engaging series of books like Malcolm Gladwell's "Tipping Point" and "Blink" and Steven Levitt's "Freakonomics." The Brafmans' effort is one of the best written and most approachable of the recent crop, and somehow it kept my focused attention for the duration of a cross-country flight--perhaps the authors are appealing to my irrational impulses in ways they don't let on!

Anyway, one of the most interesting parts of the book is the most reassuring. Research reveals that groups often make better decisions if there's a "blocker" or "dissenter" present--even if that person dissents for the wrong reasons. The authors describe a classic experiment in which the test subjects are led to believe they are being tested for their visual skills--three lines of different lengths are to be matched to a fourth line. The differences in line length are very obvious, so there is plainly only one correct answer. If you put the real subject in a room with several actors who are pretending to be test subjects but who have actually been instructed to give a manifestly wrong answer, most subjects in the experiment will behave in a compltely irrational manner, agreeing with the other "subjects" that lines that are obviously different are exactly the same. But if an actor playing "blocker" is added to the mix and points out that the group is wrong, the subject feels free to disagree and usually makes the right choice. This is true even if the "blocker" makes a different "wrong" choice by picking two other lines of plainly different lengths. What this experiement says for the business and political world is that organizations that "brook no dissent" (like the Bush administration) are likely to perform about as well as that ill-fated flight at Tenarife.

Back to the cockpit: pilots at Southwest and other airlines are now trained to avoid the disaster that happened at Tenerife. Pilots are taught to listed to objections from other crew members, and crew members are trained to communicate those objections in a way that enables the pilot to respond quickly and correctly.

The Brafmans approach this fascinating subject with wit and style, and they tackle other interesting problems besides the one described above: why people often judge a book by its cover (so to speak), why people insist on being treated fairly even if that means foregoing a benefit, and why audiences for the French and Russian versions of "Who Wants to be A Millionaire" behave much differently from each other and from their American counterparts.

To steal a march from the disclaimer on the back of "Sway" (which you can see above), if you decide to buy the book because of this review, "you just got swayed." But you should still give this review a "helpful" vote.
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on 17 June 2009
What the authors call a "Sway" is what is more generally called a cognitive bias. This is a well-written, quite short, rush through the subject, mainly focusing on real-world examples. It tells decision-makers that things can go badly wrong due to natural human biases - from confirmation bias to conformity - and gives lots of interesting examples. There are 42 endnotes pointing to relevant scientific research. However, where it falls down is that I don't feel that it teaches the reader how to think systematically about the subject: identifying biases, seeing clearly why a particular bias is the explanation for the behaviour they are talking about. This is partly made up for by the Epilogue which collects some tips for how to prevent yourself from being swayed. There are already several really excellent non-technical books on cognitive biases, including Sutherland's "Irrationality", Fine's "A Mind of its Own" and Ariely's "Predictably Irrational" (see my Listmania list). Then again, for someone who wants a quick introduction, "Sway" might be ideal.
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on 27 June 2010
Reading this book you will be able to unlock the way irrational people think & act, as well as the reasons why they do it. Therefore you can easily predict their reactions and you can be prepared for what to expect. After reading this book, I feel there are no more irrational behaviours and people, as I've learned the way to look into explaining why the behave in such a way. As a result, I have saved myself and our Company from many perils and turned them into successes, including of making profit from the unexpected!!! Ever since, I have bought literally dozens of copies of this book, giving them to my middle & top management at work and beloved ones, so as they can solve the mistery called "irrational behaviour and irrational people". To conclude, I consider this book one of the handful of books I highly recommend as the best "survival kit" for today's challenging and brutal world!!!
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on 24 July 2010
From the back cover:

'Why would an experienced pilot disregard his training and the rules of the aviation industry, resulting in the deaths of 584 people?'

'Why would a group of highly-skilled doctors fail to diagnose an evidently sick child, with tragic consequences?'

'Why are we all more likely to fall in love when we feel in danger?'

This book is set up a little like a murder mystery. The authors talk about a scenario, something irrational that happened but shouldn't have happened. The authors then explain it, referencing research into how the brain works. Very enjoyable!
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on 8 November 2014
Truly excellent book. So many insights as to why we are so easily influenced by unconscious thinking styles that then affect our behaviour.
Try a different behaviour by not reading book reviews and buying this book on intuition alone... you won't be disappointed.
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on 8 May 2013
What makes doctors, politicians, businessmen, aircraft pilots and people from all walks of society make the most illogical blunders at times with grave consequences. What makes a university undergraduate find himself biding $204 for a $20 bill. Irrationality!. This book is a light-hearted read with narrative gripping illustrations that act as a page turner. A book that everyone in society would benefit from reading before they enter their adult life.
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on 11 July 2012
Picks up on the latest theories in behavioural economics and shows through anecdotes and experiments how people can be swayed (hence the title) to pick or choose in certain ways. Blows years of economic theories out the window that people are 'rational'. They are not and economic theory should assume that people do behave this way.
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