The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli, Harper, 384 pages, $25.99, Hardcover, May 2013, ISBN 9780062219688
Have you ever toiled over a project so much that even when it showed no signs of succeeding, you couldn’t let go? If so, you were a victim of effort justification. Have you ever asked a group of current customers what they thought of your product, then felt good that most liked it while only a few had complaints? If so, you might have insured those positive results with unconscious self-selection bias. Author Rolf Dobelli blames both instances of muddled thinking on our irrationality. His international bestselling The Art of Thinking Clearly presents behavioral economics, psychology, neuroscience research, and concise and relatable anecdotes to explain where we go wrong in our thought processes and how to think our way out of trouble.
According to Dobelli, we generally complicate our lives with doing, believing, and thinking in ways that seem to offer some kind of solution to our current wants and needs, but, over time, become a quicksand of contradictions. When we brush these contradictions to the side, we become increasingly irrational. He explains:
When we encounter contrasts, we react like birds to a gunshot. We jump up and get moving. Our weak spot: We don’t notice small, gradual changes. A magician can make your watch vanish because, when he presses on one part of your body, you don’t notice the lighter touch on your wrist as he relieves you of your Rolex. Similarly, we fail to notice how our money disappears. It constantly loses its value, but we do not notice because inflation happens over time. If it were imposed on us in the form of a brutal tax (and basically that’s what it is), we would be outraged.
No one wants to lose money, but we do. No one would do something “so stupid,” but we do. No one would think they jump to conclusions, but we do. The solution is working toward a clearer understanding of how our brains work, and the truth within a given situation. Dobelli’s book is a fascinating guide.
The short chapters (2-3 pages) are like brain puzzles that can actually change you. The stories will shock you as you recognize the foolish decisions you’ve made, but the stories will also inspire you to chuckle about the human condition. The big takeaway is that we all get too hung up about doing the right thing, making smart decisions, and becoming successful; reading The Art of Thinking Clearly will help you realize that a big part of every challenge is how complicated we ourselves make things. Dobelli guides us to simplify:
Forget trying to amass all the data. Do your best to get by with the bare facts. It will help you make better decisions. Superfluous knowledge is worthless, whether you know it or not. The historian Daniel J. Boorstin put it right: “The greatest obstacle to discovery is not ignorance—it is the illusion of knowledge.” And next time you are confronted by a rival, consider killing him—not with kindness but with reams of data and analysis.