Book Review: The Art of Thinking Clearly

While at Nationals and on my ‘taper’ I plowed through another book, Rolf Dobelli’s, The Art of Thinking Clearly. It was easy to digest with each chapter about 3 pages in length. After having just finished The Power of Habit by Duhigg I found this book to be more pessimistic (or maybe it was just very Swiss!).

Below are the highlight from the book for me. While I was underwhelmed by the book,  again mostly because I found it pessimistic, and I try to be more of an optimist, there was some great tips to make everyday life easier. And some tips that made me giggle, about Excel Spreadsheets, that we are puppets to our emotions and that irrationality can be both hot and cold, for example.

The Highlights:

Ch 5 – Sunk Cost Fallacy: “Rational decision making requires you to forget about the costs incurred to date. No matter how much you have already invested, only your assessment of future costs and benefits counts (…to justify non-recoverable investments).”

Ch 7 – Confirmation Bias: “…is the mother of all misconceptions. It is the tendency to interpret new information so that it becomes compatible with our existing theories, beliefs, and convictions. In other words, we filter out any new information that contradicts our existing views (dis-confirming evidence).”

Ch 9 – Authority Bias: “Whenever you are about to make a decision, think about which authority figures might be exerting an influence on your reasoning. And when you encounter one in the flesh, do the best to challenge him or her.”

Ch 11 – Availability Bias: “Fend it off by spending time with people who think differently than you do – people whose experiences and expertise are different from yours. We require others’ input to overcome the availability bias.”

Ch 46 – Be Careful What you Wish For: “Use these scientifically rubber-stamped pointers to make better, brighter decisions: a) avoid negative things that you cannot grow accustomed to, such as commuting, noise, or chronic stress. b) Expect only short-term happiness from material things, such as cars, houses, lottery winnings, bonuses, and prizes. c) aim for as much free time and autonomy  as possible since long-lasting positive effects generally come from what you actively do. Follow you passions even if you must forfeit a portion of your income for them. Invest in friendships.”

Ch 65 – Volunteers Folly: “anyone who profits of feels the slightest satisfaction from volunteering is not quite a pure altruist.” Although I struggle with this one, I think it’s ok to volunteer, if the returns would be greater from hiring a professional.

Ch 66 – Affect Heuristic: “We are puppets of our emotions. We make complex decisions by consulting our feelings, not our thoughts.  Against our best intentions, we substitute the question, ‘What do I think about this?’ with ‘How do I feel about this?’ ”

Ch 67 – Interpretation Illusion: “Nothing is more convincing than your own beliefs. We believe that introspection unearths genuine self-knowledge. Unfortunately, introspection is, in large part, fabrication posing two dangers: First, the introspection illusion creates inaccurate predictions of future mental states. Trust you internal observations too much and too long, and you might be in for a very rude awakening. Second, we believe that our introspections are more reliable than those of others, which creates an illusion of superiority. Remedy = be more critical with yourself, become your own toughest critic.

Ch 71 – Alternative Blindness: “If you have trouble making a decision, remember that the choices are broader… forget about the rock and the hard place, and open your eyes to the others, superior alternatives.”

Ch 72 – Social Comparison Bias: “Do you foster individuals more talented than you? Admittedly in the short term, the preponderance of stars can endanger your status, but in the long run, you can only profit from their contributions. Others will overtake you at some stage anyway. Until then, you should get in the up-and-comers good books – and learn from them.”

Ch 92 – Déformation Professionnelle: “…becomes hazardous when people apply their specialized processes in areas where they don’t belong. … Or consider the omnipresent Excel Spreadsheet that is featured on every computer: We use them even when it makes no sense – for example, when generating ten-year financial projections for starts-ups or when comparing potential loves that we have all ’sourced’ from dating sites. Excel spreadsheets might as well be one of the most dangerous recent inventions… locate your shortcomings and find suitable knowledge and methodologies to balance them.”

Epilogue: Hot vs Cold irrationality.
Hot irrationality: reason tames feelings; if this fails irrationality runs free…. there is no reason to fret about logic: it is error-free, it’s just that, sometimes, emotions overpower it.                                                                                                   Cold irrationality – thinking  is in itself not pure, but prone to feelings. Our brains are designed  to reproduce rather than search for the truth. We use our thoughts primarily to persuade.
Intuitive decisions, even if they lack logic, are better under certain circumstances… we lack the necessary information so we are forced to use mental shortcuts and rules of thumbs
Intuitve and rational thinking: intuitive mind is swift, spontaneous and energy saving. Rational thinking is slow, demanding and energy guzzling
When making big decisions, use reason and rationale, otherwise let intuition take over.