(Influence) Book Review: Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph Hallinan (2009)

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Victor Antonio, Sales Influence

Did you know that human error Is responsible for 70% plane crashes, 90% car wrecks, 90% workplace accidents.  Did you also know that right-handed people have a propensity to turn right when entering a building, will choose the number 7 and the color blue as their favorite.  Lastly, did you know we don’t like changing our first answer on a test even when we have doubts it may be the right answer.  Welcome to the world of Why We Make Mistakes and how our brains are often times wired with biases beyond our own consciousness.
The book should come with a warning label:

WARNING: Due to the graphic cognitive nature of this book, your confidence in your ability to be “totally” confident in your answers going forward may be undermined.
Hallinan’s book is a disturbingly fascinating tour through the lambrynth of frailties in human cognition.  Or to put it in the vernacular a la Zig Ziglar, we do a lot of  “Stink’n think’n” and we don’t even know it at times.  We have biases and we don’t know it.   And even when we do know about our tendency, we find it hard to correct
My biggest ‘Ah-Ha!’ moment from the book was on test taking studies. Since I can remember, the school system has indoctrinated me with the test-taking rule, ‘go with your first answer, it’s usually the right one’.  Not according to Hallinan.  Based on nearly 80 years of research (spanning 30 studies) on answer changes from wrong-to-right conclude that most people who ‘do change’ their answers improve their test scores.  That tip alone would’ve bumped my scores up in college. 
Here’s another nugget in the book, 70% of stock investors stick with their stock choice even after knowing they might be wrong.  Why?  It’s in the book, I won’t spoil it for you.
Part of the reason for our cognitive handicap has to do with our overly taxed memory.   Hallinan notes that 30% forgot password in just one week and 65% forgot password after 3 months.  Halinan makes a very insightful point when he addresses how our memories are a “reconstruction not a reproduction”.  In other words, hindsight really isn’t 20/20 and our current image of the past is more than likely a convenient reconstruction and not a reproduction of what really happened.  Hallinan says, “In remembering our own actions, we all tend to wear rose-colored glasses.”
The book follows this line of thinking by emphasizing that our ability to remember things can be greatly influenced and improved by reconstructing the context of the actual experience. For example, scuba divers were ask to learn a list of words while underwater while another group was ask to learn the list on dry land.  Both groups were able to better recall the words on that list when they were either back in the water or on dry land.  Or as Hallinan states it, “Those who learned wet remembered when wet.  Those who learned dry remembered when dry.”
I could go on but there is just so much packed into this book that it’s dizzying.  This is one of the few times I actually suffered from ‘Hmmmm…’ overload from reading a book. 
There are a few sections on anchoring, reframing and context influencing that can be applied to the sales process.  But the majority of the book is a smorgasbord of insight and illumination into how the brain works (or doesn’t).  This book shines a harsh and honest light on how our brain, our cognitive engine, sputters and often times is running on low idle. 
This book is chock full of fascinating studies and examples of the human thinking condition and pound-for-pound is one of the best I’ve ever read.  If your brain needs some stretching, this book will do it for you.  But remember, as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. stated, “Man’s mind, stretched by a new idea, never goes back to its original dimensions.”  Prepare to be stretched and relieved of your rose-colored glasses.

Victor Antonio, Sales Influence
“Finding the Why in (How People) Buy” 


2 Responses

  1. Victor, After reading your review, I realized that I should have been and “A” student and not a “B” student. I enjoyed your post. I will be back for more. @loansource

    • Jim, I hear ya’. I wish I knew this about test taking back in college, or high school for that matter. Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts!

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