The advance of civilisation and the cultivation of the collective mind would be improved if it were this book rather than the Bible that were placed in the bedside cabinets of hotels throughout the world…
So wrote Nicholas Lezard in the Guardian newspaper about the excellent and funny book a neighbour thrust into my hand the other day. A few of us villagers had been drinking, so it wasn’t football, cars or golf that cropped up, but: “Here, you must read this book, Irrationality, by Stuart Sutherland. You’ll like it.” And he was right, was Andy. I do like it.
It’s about the irrationality of the way we think and behave, and the appalling irrationality of organisations. (That’s something I can’t imagine is true, having just left the BBC.)
You may be familiar with the experiment in which social psychologists at Yale University (and elsewhere since) led volunteers into administering what they believed were ever-increasing electric shocks to victims. And you’ll already be aware of the risks of surrounding yourself with acolytes who are only too willing to reinforce your prejudices, however misguided, and to shield you from inconveniences that could challenge your intentions, like, say, reality.
But there’s loads more to enjoy and learn here. Especially on organisational folly. So I’m going to concentrate here on the morals. At the end of each chapter the author lists up to half a dozen points to take away from what’s been talked about. Here’s a list of the final moral from each chapter.
If we all lived by these, life would be both more rational, and maybe more fun. What do you think of them? Any glaring omissions you’d like to add?
- If you happen to be a publisher, check your back list on receipt of a manuscript: you don’t want to publish the same book twice.
- Never volunteer to become a subject in the Psychological Laboratory at Yale.
- Recall that, ‘If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue… You’ll be a man, my son.’
- If you must wear a uniform, wear that of nurses.
- Never allow an insurance salesman past your front door.
- If you happen to be offered a Nobel prize, turn it down.
- Ask yourself whether the benefits of jogging and low-fat yogurt are really worth the misery.
- Remember nobody is always right, though some people are always wrong.
- Don’t adopt the Greek system of ignoring bad tidings by killing the messenger – or sending him on sick leave.
- Flee any psychologist or psychiatrist who asks you to do a Rorschach test; he does not know his job.
- In order not to foul up medical research even further, nobody without a good knowledge of statistics, probability theory and experimental design should become the editor of a medical journal, even at the expense of a vast reduction in the number of journals.
- Eat what you fancy.
- Don’t trust Which?
- If you are a casino owner losing money, don’t sack the croupier; it’s not his fault.
- If you have a choice, work in a nuclear reactor rather than on a North Sea oil rig.
- Falling for the ‘gambler’s fallacy’ (seeing patterns in random events) won’t make you win money, nor come to that will it make you lose.
- If you are a head hunter, try not to make asinine remarks.
- Don’t value everything in terms of money unless you’re an accountant.