Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior

UPDATE: If you’re looking for a free copy of the book, head on over to okdork.

I finished reading an awesome book that’s about to come out: Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior. These book comes from the same guy (and his brother) that wrote The Starfish and the Spider.

Ori and his brother take another Tipping Point slash Freakonomics approach to this book which is very successful and very good at communicating complicated concepts. By using stories I’m able to quickly grasp the idea, and then I have a vivid application of the concept that I can turn around and use to share with others. This is the kind of book you read today and talk about with everyone you run into for the next three weeks.

The main point of the book is that we are often drawn to doing dumb (irrational) things and making decisions that make no sense… but in reality, they do. These are some of the concepts that can help us understand why people behave irrationally:

  • We fear a loss: if we sense we’re going to lose something, we’ll do everything we can, and make stupid choices, to try and reverse it (even if we know it’d be smarter to give up and accept the small loss now). Example: stock market.
  • Incentive can actually deter us: Our brain makes a decision based on either the intrinsic (do the right thing) or extrinsic (give me $10) reward–but that financial motivation may backfire and prevent us from doing something. Example: your company wants you to find new business and you do because it’s a good challenge and develops your skills… but then they introduce a $50 reward–you decide that’s not enough incentive to sell new business.
  • We make a wrong decision if someone else does, too: studies show that it takes just one person to agree and then, suddenly a bad decision becomes a good one. A simple confirmation is all it takes. Example: crossing the street without looking when the guy next to you steps out.

Go read the book and you’ll realize, yes, this is what is going on all the time. It helps explain so many behavioral (and economical) decisions that, hopefully, the understanding of ‘sway’ can help you make better choices (about yourself, your products, your approaches, etc.).

Book Website: swaybook.com*
Amazon page: Sway goes on sale June 3, 2008

  • Another book with an online (video-based) trailer. Very cool, and much better at explaining the book than I can. Check it out!