Book Review: Why We Make Mistakes

Why We Make Mistakes:  How We Look Without Seeing, Forget Things In Seconds, And Are All Pretty sure We Are Way Above Average, by Joseph T. Hallinan

I was recommended this book by an online friend of mine, and although I had not read the book before I was generally familiar with a great deal of the book’s contents, largely because the author looks at fairly familiar aspects of human behavior where people are particularly error prone [1].  There happen to be a lot of these areas, but the author shows himself to be at least a couple of steps above those who seek to mock people for our limitations, but rather instead views a recognition of human limitation as a way for us to better shape the world in which we live, so that we do not expect of ourselves or of others what is unreasonable or that we do not do particularly well.  This is a pattern that we can find over and over again in the book, as the author wonders why contemporary jobs demand much in the way of multitasking when it is something that people do spectacularly poorly.  Those who enjoy pondering the way our minds work and situations where they do not work so well will find much to enjoy and appreciate here.

The contents of this book are a bit more than 200 pages and are divided into thirteen chapters along with an introduction, conclusion, and various other supplementary material.  The author points out that we look but do not always see because our field of focus is much smaller than our field of vision (1), that we all search for meaning in the midst of randomness (2), that we all connect the dots (3).  Likewise, we wear rose-colored glasses and are generally too optimistic (4), we are limited in what we can do simultaneously (5), and we often fall victim to framing (6).  The author notes that we skim in order to save mental energy (7), like things tidy rather than messy (8), and that men shoot first (9).  Finally, the author notes that we all think we are above average unless we are depressed (10), that we’d rather wing it than follow directions (11), that we don’t constrain ourselves to best advantage (12) and that the grass does look greener on the other side of the hill (13).  Obviously, given these limitations it is pretty clear that there are many ways where people can and do err and it takes a considerable amount of intelligence and wisdom for us to overcome our limitations.

There are a few big takeaways that one can gather from this book that ought to impress themselves upon readers.  For one, the limitations and mistakes of our mind are usually the result of things our mind does particularly well–our skills at intuition and heuristics lead to corresponding limitations in other areas where we play to our weaknesses instead.  Likewise, the author points out that there is often considerable profit to be made by some people and some business on our systematic errors that lead to perversely designed systems that play to weaknesses in order to tilt the playing field in favor of others, one of the reasons why the house tends to win and why gift cards and gym memberships are often a bad idea.  Being aware of our limitations and the fact that we may be played by others because of these limitations is a wise strategy that we would do well to adopt, by coming to the understanding that none of us are immune to our systemic biases and filters and blind spots.  Whether or not this is easily done, it is still a worthwhile task to adopt.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Book Review: Why We Make Mistakes

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

  2. Pingback: Book Review: Going Up The River | Edge Induced Cohesion

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s