Sunday, October 18, 2009

Book Review: Errornomics

Errornomics is Joseph T Hallinan's short (221 pages) look at how and why people make mistakes and some suggestions for avoiding them. While a lot of the case studies and conclusions were familiar to me from other readings (including the irritatingly flawed (but famous) experiment on choosing to save people from an epidemic), Hallinan presented them in a very accessible and entertaining manner making the book well worth reading. Some of the case studies were as horrifying as they were amusing: professional psychologists who proved to be no better at correctly diagnosing conditions than their secretaries.

I particularly enjoyed the discussion on overconfidence. I was amused by the fact that the author only identified three groups of people who, as groups, did not suffer from overconfidence: weather forecasters, bridge players and people suffering from depression. Since I don't play bridge and am not a weather forecaster, I guess that means I am either overconfident or suffering from depression.

The final chapter with Hallinan's conclusions includes some good advice for avoiding (or at least reducing mistakes):

1. think small: be aware of the small things that unconsciously affect your decision making. One of the examples given was scent in shops;

2. think negatively: ask what could go wrong;

3. keep a list of your dry holes: you will get a better perspective on your real abilities in a particular area by keeping records of all the decisions you made (and the ones you didn't make) and their outcomes;

4. avoid multitasking: ok, we all know that multitasking is inefficient but it is also dangerous. A huge number of accidents and other mistakes are caused by people being distracted from a primary task (i.e. multitasking);

5. be happy: happy people make fewer mistakes than unhappy people;

6. recognise that money does not generally reduce mistakes: that's right - paying people more does not usually improve the quality of decision making.

Hallinan also has some observations for early retirees which I will come back to in a future post.


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