Ardent Audible listener with a long commute!
Fans of Malcolm Gladwell (especially “The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference,” 2000 and “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,” 2005) will appreciate Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman’s “Sway: The Irresistible Power of Irrational Behavior” I have all of Gladwell’s books. In hardback. And I really liked “Sway”. Actually, “Sway” was an easier read/listen. “Sway” has a lot more anecdotal stories to illustrate the points the Brothers Brafman are making.
My favorite chapter was Eight, “Dissenting Justice.” The Brafmans have the most thorough and easy to understand discussion of how the US Supreme Court reviews cases it decides to hear. The purpose of Supreme Courts conferences is to determine how the Court will rule, and the process – honed over hundreds of years – is to make rational decisions, and to respect the voices of dissent. Very few organizations, business or government, would have the time or discipline to engage in the same process – but a modified procedure, encouraging similar careful consideration of the facts, would be well applied used in corporate decision making processes.
Chapter Seven, “Cocaine and Compassion” was a close second to Chapter Eight. In “Cocaine and Compassion”, the Brafmans discuss the difference between pleasure center motivation (money, cocaine) and altruistic motivation. The bottom line is that people are more likely to cooperate and perform well for altruistic reasons – and, for biological reasons, the motivation is going to be either pleasure or altruism, but not both at the same time.
Altruism is discussed extensively in Adam Grant’s 2013 “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success.” “Sway” was easier to understand, and I think I would have had an easier time with “Give and Take” if I’d read/listened to “Sway” first.
I liked parts of “Sway” so much, I listened to parts of it more than once.
The narration was good, but I could have done without the random music – I wasn’t sure what sections it was setting apart.
Margaret Heffernan's "Willful Blindness: Why we Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril" (2011) is in Audible's Nonfiction:Science & Technology:Social Science, along with Malcolm Gladwell's books, including "Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking" (2005) and "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference" (2007). Jefferson's "Willful Blindness" is definitely on par with Gladwell's work, but without the publicity Gladwell has, I'm worried that not enough people will find out just how great this book is for people who want to understand what individual and organizational psychological problems can cause monumental failures.
Heffernan begins with a dramatic description of a tragic British Petroleum disaster - but not the 2010 Deep Water Horizon blow out that killed 11 workers and badly harmed a great deal of the coast of the United Stated. She describes the 2005 Texas City Refinery explosion that killed 15 workers and wreaked havoc on a vital part of the economy. Some of the factors that made the workers blind to the problem that caused the explosion were lack of sleep caused by long shifts with not enough time off; not enough workers; and poor design of equipment. Management at the local level didn't have the power to change the situation, and executives determined to cut costs refused to hear them. What's surprising to Heffernan is that when BP's Deep Water Horizon blew, people were astounded. The management and the corporate culture hadn't changed. Why wouldn't it happen again?
Heffernan's book is full of similar case studies, some well known - like the federal government's disastrous handling of Hurricane Katrina. Some are not well known - like the installation of pumps that will not work in New Orleans after Katrina.
Once again, I do wish Audible had a true table of contents. Since it doesn't, here it is (with thanks to Google Books): Introduction; 1. Affinity and Beyond; 2. Love is Blind; 3. Dangerous Convictions; 4 The Limits of Your Mind; 5. The Ostrich Instruction; 6. Just Following Orders; 7. The Cult of Cultures; 8. Bystander; 9. Out of Sight Out of Mind; 10. De-Moralizing Work; 11. Cassandra; 12. See Better. Chapter 11, which starts with the myth of Cassandra, who was gifted with knowing the truth and the future but cursed not to be believed, is a powerful discussion about encouraging those in an organization who know the truth to speak up.
Heffernan narrates the book herself, and it was hard to get used to her unusual accent. I checked her bio, and she was born in Texas, raised in the Netherlands, and attended college in England. No wonder I couldn't place it.
I definitely recommend this book for managers and executives who want to strengthen their teams.
[If you found this review helpful, please let me know by clicking the helpful button. And Audible, how about adding this one to the Business section also???]
It seems important to mention one's "creds" in writing reviews of Stephen King's "Guns" so I will start with mine: I served in the US Army, and was honorably discharged as a SGT/E-5. I qualified Expert with an M16 (the civilian equivalent is an AR15), and I'm still proud of that.
I also have a copy of "Rage", in the compilation of "The Bachman Books" that I purchased the year it was published, 1985. I remember reading "The Bachan Books" the same week I purchased it. I loved "The Running Man" and liked "Roadwork", and while the plot of "Rage" was intriguing, the writing was so sophomoric, it was painful. I found out later King wrote "Rage" while he was in high school, so there was an explanation. I read "Rage" once again, in 1996, when I heard Michael Carneal shot classmates in West Paducah, Kentucky. It sounded so much like the story I'd read 11 years earlier, I wanted to make sure I wasn't imagining the similarity. I wasn't.
King's essay "Guns" starts with a scathing social commentary, "That's How it Shakes Out." It doesn't matter if the first station you've got programmed into your remote is FoxNEWS and Ann Coulter is your dream date, or if you are so far left you contribute frequently to KPFK: the media cycle for mass shootings is the same.
King argues forcefully - and sometimes vulgarly - for gun control. King is a gun owner himself, and does not want to disarm the country - but he does want assault weapons banned, and large magazines banned; and he wants background checks.
What King argues isn't new or innovative, but the writing is vintage King. There are phrases I remember from "The Shawshank Redemption" (the movie adaptation, not the original novella "Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption") and the unabridged edition of "The Stand." There's also a theme in the first and last section of "Guns" that runs through "The Library Policeman" and "The Ten O'Clock People." The theme was chilling in the stories, and the probability it's a reality is startling.
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By and large, I think this is a good and even an important book. In it, Haidt very clearly lays out the research that supports the view that human beings have been endowed by evolution with 6 moral intuitions, or foundations. The moral intuitions are innate, which Haidt clearly explains does not mean fixed and immutable, but, rather, arranged in advance of experience. We don't all have a fixed set of moral intuitions, but there is a limited palate from which experience may paint the picture of how we perceive the world.
The most important part of Haidt's research and the argument of this book is that liberal and conservatives share these moral intuitions but tend to emphasize them very differently, and it is the different emphases that cause the divisions among us. In brief, liberals tend to assign moral weight to issues of justice (is it fair - does everyone have an equal chance) and harm/care (does it cause harm to another - bad; or does it help another - good). Conservatives share these intuitions, but their take on justice is different. For a conservative, justice is determined by proportionality. Each according to his/ her contribution, not his/ her need. In addition, everyone, but conservatives to a much greater extent than liberals, also feel that questions of loyalty (to one's group/family/country), authority (obedience), and purity/ sanctity (as in not mixing this with that) are moral issues. A sixth intuition concerns liberty. Here again, however, liberals and conservatives differ in how they think about liberty. Liberals wish to be free of constraints applied by other members of the group, while conservatives think of liberty as freedom from government.
As a framework for parsing arguments between liberals and conservatives, I think this is extraordinarily helpful. What Haidt and colleagues argue is that when we disagree with our ideological counterparts, the disagreements arise from differences in the weight we apply to these moral intuitions. For liberals, there really are just two primary moral issues, fairness and harm/care, while conservatives also value authority, loyalty, purity and liberty to a great extent.
Importantly, Haidt argues that each of the moral intuitions has been vital to the evolution of human culture. While those among us who are liberals care more about justice and care, without the other intuitions, we would never have achieved the groupishness and hence the culture that separates humans from other animals. It is primarily the conservative intuitions that have been responsible for providing the glue that held groups together over our evolutionary history, and it is as groups that human beings have generated a culture that has distanced us from our primitive ape cousins.
Not much to take issue with there.
Ultimately, however, Haidt explains that his study of morality produced in him a sort of conversion from liberal to moderately conservative, having discovered the value of groupish moral intuitions. He also cites research showing that conservatives are better able to take the view of a liberal into account that vice versa, and invites liberals to try to broaden their view to include these other intuitions. His suggestion in this book and elsewhere is that more conservative voices should be added to the intellectual debate over the role of moral intuitions in society.
So here's my problem with that. 1) I am liberal and have a hard time, as he says, understanding how the groupish intuitions might continue to retain their value as moral intuitions in the modern world. It seems to me that many of our greatest problems today have to do with the oversized role of these moral intuitions in buttressing parochial concerns (issues of importance to my group only), leading to inter-group conflict.
2) I am a member of a group (gays) that has been and still is legally disenfranchised in this country, and that disenfranchisement is largely justified by referral to the moral intuition purity. I can't marry my partner, because too many people in this country believe that to allow me to do so would somehow violate the purity/sanctity of heterosexual marriage. So, I can't get behind it. Of course, that is my parochial concern, but I can point to similar concerns that would affect nearly everyone. Purity/Sanctity, in my view, is a moral intuition that has outlived its useful life.
3) Too much of Haidt's argument has the flavor of a naturalistic fallacy. One is committing the naturalistic fallacy when one deems something to be good on the basis of it being natural. Another way it is expressed is when a person assumes that something ought or should be a certain way solely on the basis that it is that way in nature. Haidt's argument is more subtle than saying that because people are endowed with six moral intuitions, therefore all six ought to be valued equally. But, for may taste, his argument still relies mostly on the argument that because these six moral foundations were all critical for the development of what we consider to be civilized society, that they are all to be consulted in policy- and decision-making now. Much of our civilization consists of norms and rules for curbing natural instincts. The instincts that continually reify parochial groupishness, ie, the conservative moral intuitions, are among the natural instincts that I believe must be curbed. An alternative take is that the moral foundations are fine as is, but the groups to which they are applied must be continually enlarged to include everyone, and then perhaps everything. Clearly, this circle-enlarging has been occurring and will likely continue. That's great. But, shouldn't we also work to limit the sway of the intuitions that, while historically vital, are presently harmful or at best of dubious value for large swathes (i.e., anyone not in the majority) of our society today?