Why We Make Mistakes

{4.5/5} “Many of the qualities that allow us to do so many things so well contain flip sides that predispose us to error. We happen to be very good, for instance, at quickly sizing up a situation. Within a tenth of a second or so after looking at a scene, we are usually able to extract its meaning, or gist. The price we pay for this rapid-fire analysis is that we miss a lot of details. Where the problem comes in is that we don’t think we’ve missed anything: we think we’ve seen it all.”

Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan was published in 2009. The subtitle is “How we look without seeing, forget things in seconds, and are all pretty sure we are way above average.”

It’s about what kinds of mistakes we make and why, and how we might avoid them. If you’re human, this is a useful book.

There are differences between men and women, experts and novices, and left and right handers. Our judgement is influenced by scent, price, colour, and emotions.

Everybody knows most people tend to remember faces better than names. But whose faces do we remember? And what mistakes do we remember? It turns out that we remember our own actions and utterances more favourably than an observer.

If you want to remember something, go back to where you learned it. If you want to get rid of errors, simplify and add constraints — for example, to reduce errors in confusing two similar drugs, they changed the colours on the bottles and added lids that took longer to open.

We can learn from weather forecasters, who are very accurate (despite your anecdotal evidence), and airplane pilots, who rarely crash.

Hallinan discusses bias (you have it even though you don’t know it), multitasking (you can’t do it even though you think you can), and overconfidence (you think you’re better than you are at things). You also really don’t like to follow instructions.

Some of what he says is counter-intuitive, but everything he says is based on research and experiments. It’s always good to be more knowledgeable about what’s going on in your own head. This is a well-written and important book: I encourage you to check it out.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, January 21st, 2014 at 9:18 pm and is filed under Reviews of books. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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