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  • Kinga Rajzak

Dobelli’s recipe for potent self-awareness and bulletproof decision-making

Book Review

By Kinga Rajzak

Have you ever caught yourself thinking that something will turn out a certain way, but then ended up facing the sour truth that your assumption was wrong, simply biased ?

Now Rolf Dobelli’s “The Art of Thinking Clearly,” a quasi self-help-cum-pseudo-psychology read is here to offer an explanation to why we wield our thoughts the way we do, often letting sane reflexive thinking undergo a thorough revamp by previous experiences, fleeting impressions and questionable reasoning.

Dobelli enumerates 99 species of cognitive hiccups that uncannily seduce human thinking by patterns of rationale, that more often than not, happen to be dogged by irrationality.

According to the book then, there is a string of Janus-faced presumptions in your head that might be working against you, sneakily curtailing your otherwise level-headed judgment.

But lo and behold, if you follow Dobelli’s recipe of peeling away the layers of experience and toxic medley of pre-meditated thought, you will become invincible. No more half-baked ideas because you saw others doing this or that, or recall a similar experience from the other day. Social structures will appear pointless too, along with everything that you know about human behavior and self-conduct. Now you will be a much more effective thinker, because you will make decisions without sullied thoughts steeped in evil bias.

Dobelli offers a convincing study of human reality propped up with anecdotal evidence, yet fails to take into account that past experiences and our place in society organize the building blocks of our judgments. Moreover, being social creatures, we cannot un-learn what we already know, especially when it comes to thinking. We all tend to approach problem-solving and decision-making through a complex system of deduction and induction - a logical way of interpreting our own reality.

The book's collection of cemented, thought-bending bias remains interesting, yet cannot be applied to every single decision we make. People have their own histories and on the top of that, there are myriad elements and impulses that will guide their reasoning.

For example, one of the chapters details “survivorship bias” that focuses on how “people systematically overestimate their chances of success” by basing their expectations on successful people, meanwhile ignoring those who have failed. Accordingly, these individuals will end up making flawed decisions, and setting themselves up for failure. Dobelli might be right here, but he is also wrong. If you don’t cut a positive figure and believe a tad in your success right at the outset, then why try? Negative thinking will sink your ship and curb your chances.

“Authority bias” describes the reasons of why you nod yes to everything your boss says, even if his/her proposition is deeply flawed. In an ideal Dobelli-world you would step forward and tell your boss that he/she has made the wrong decision, but in reality, very few places have hierarchy-free set ups, where a clerk could warn a seasoned executive about his/her ill-informed assessment. It is good to learn about this type of bias, but it is not easy to forgo it when there are executive egos in the way.

Overall, Dobelli’s book is entertaining, but seems to be biased by its own set of bias. While there might be ways to draw up an explanatory map of human actions, our thoughts are products of our own experiences. That's why our own decisions should not be exclusively measured by reductionist categories.

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