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You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney

You're Not So Smart bookI love this book for a couple of reasons. First, because I spend a lot of time thinking about human behaviour and understanding. The second reason is because of the way David McRaney has compiled this book – with each chapter covering a different cognitive bias.

Books that talk about human behaviour often take the marketing manager’s approach – telling you how to sell to people. This book is not one of those – it is written for the human and is not a marketing book. It is written for the benefit of anyone, to give some insight into how we think

In doing that, it does of course provide some insight into how we can communicate with others.


Consider the chapter on Groupthink, which makes reference to famous examples cited in other books. The author says, “It turns out, for any plan to work, every team needs at least one asshole who doesn’t give a shit if he or she gets fired or exiled or excommunicated. For a group to make good decisions, they must allow dissent and convince everyone they are free to speak their mind … How many times have you settled on a bar or restaurant no one really wanted to go to?”

In the chapter on conformity, the author dispels the notion that we may all believe – that we are strong individuals able to stick to our principles. The truth is that “it takes little more than an authority figure or social pressure to get you to obey, because conformity is a survival instinct”.

He tells the story of the Mount Washington, Kentucky scam, where employees of a McDonald’s were convinced by a phone caller that he was a police officer who was investigating a crime. The caller persuaded staff members to debase themselves and each other purely on his say-so. This was not a one-off – it had happened to a number of fast food restaurants. It is also the true story basis of the 2012 movie Compliance.

In tests cited in the book, evidence shows we are less likely to question something we would otherwise question if we are instructed by someone in authority. Anyone keen to know what makes a good leader will be pleased to read that chapter, as well as the one entitled ‘The Argument from Authority’, which says, “The status and credentials of an individual greatly influence your perception of that individual’s message.”

Throughout the book, example after example, backed up by well-known studies, explains how the way you think is not the way you think you think.

Here is the Amazon link for the book.

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