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A Skimmer's Guide To the Latest Business Books - Sway

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The book: Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior; Currency/Doubleday; June 3, 2008

The big idea: Authors Ori and Rom Brafman explore how forces such as fear of loss and reluctance to change often cause people to act against their best interests. The brothers team up effectively to bring together differing perspectives: Ori is an entrepreneur, and Rom is a psychologist.

Which shelf it belongs on: Since 2002, when Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for his work on behavioral economics, the wacky world of human decision making has become a staple of publishing. Blink, Freakonomics, The Wisdom of Crowds'¶never before have we known so much about why we do stupid things -- and why it's not our fault. The authors have produced an unusually entertaining addition to the genre, with some nice applications to management.

Intriguing idea: Though the book is chock-full of anecdotes, the authors keep returning to one powerful example, and for good reason. On March 27, 1977, Captain Jacob Van Zanten of KLM Airlines tried to take off without clearance from an airport in the Canary Islands and clipped another plane parked on the runway. The ensuing explosion killed 584 people. As the authors describe the accretion of small, bad decisions leading up to this disaster, the reader can imagine making every one of them. It's a cautionary tale that gets under your skin.

Pass-along value: Limited. Understanding your motivations is meaningful, but this volume won't transform your work force.

If you read nothing else: "Michael Jordan and the First-Date Interview" (Chapter Four) takes a swipe at hiring managers who rely on their instincts as shrewd people readers. It advises interviewers to ditch the chitchat and focus on just the facts, ma'am. "In France, the Sun Revolves Around the Earth" (Chapter Six) explores a phenomenon of critical importance to customer service: People care more about being treated fairly than about achieving a particular outcome.

Rigor rating: 8 (1=Who Moved My Cheese?; 10=Good to Great). Sway includes the most thorough and detailed list of sources to come along in a while.

Theory/practice ratio: 6 to 1. The authors devote their epilogue to mechanisms for countering sway.
Last updated: May 1, 2008

LEIGH BUCHANAN | Staff Writer | Editor-at-large, Inc. Magazine

Leigh Buchanan is an editor-at-large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture.




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