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SWIPE by Tracy Maylett


The Science Behind Why We Don’t Finish What We Start

by Tracy Maylett & Tim Vandehey

Pub Date: March 21st, 2023
ISBN: 9781645435532
Publisher: Amplify Publishing

Organizational psychologist Maylett and journalist Vandehey offer an examination of modern-day disengagement.

Touch screens on smartphones and tablets encourage people to “Swipe,” which the authors define more broadly as following “our natural impulse to progress to the next thing, and then the next, and the next.” As the team points out, Swiping behavior extends far beyond technological gadgets to virtually every area of human life. The authors have studied employee engagement for 20 years—researching, interviewing, surveying, and analyzing data—to produce a work that explores the psychology of disengaging. The goal of their research is to help readers finish what they start. The authors acknowledge that Swiping is akin to procrastinating, but it’s more about abruptly quitting a task rather than delaying it: “You almost certainly have your own list of unfinished frustrations….We know we’re capable of more, but we just can’t get there.” The book begins with an overview of the negatives associated with Swiping; the authors even identify eight types of Swipes, including “The Greener Grass Swipe,” a common characteristic of job-hoppers, and “The Impostor Syndrome Swipe,” in which someone who feels like a fraud bolts from an uncomfortable situation. A chapter on disengagement in the workplace is particularly edifying; it offers guidance for both managers and employees on how Swiping can “sabotage” the success of an organization or an individual. The use of an image of a “hamster wheel” in a subsequent chapter is an obvious but still effective way to depict the Swipe cycle; later, the authors provide a smart six-step process for exiting from said wheel.

Many of the authors’ astute observations over the course of this book will resonate with readers, and their assessment of technology is an especially compelling one. They write, for example, that “technology has created an unconscious expectation in a substantial fraction of the population that life is reality optional.…It’s the impulse that leads us to quit before we finish what we’ve begun.” Even more sobering is their view of today’s powerful apps: “We are developing an unconscious sense that we are entitled to have things work out, to have even the most fraught crisis resolve with the tap of an app.” Many examples the authors cite are taken from the business world and are directed toward managers or employees. However, Maylett and Vandehey do a fine job of relating the Swipe to many other aspects of daily life, and as a result, their work is likely to be relevant to a wide audience. Frequent sidebars inserted throughout expand on topics in useful ways; for example, “How Not To Swipe” segments offer helpful suggestions for avoiding the act of Swiping, while “Nerd Alert!” entries take a deeper dive into related scientific experiments and theories. At the close of the book, they aptly ponder what a Swipe-free world might be like: “Imagine the epic flood of potential that would be unleashed if just a fraction of us stopped Swiping and finished what we started.”

An engrossing, perceptive, and insightful study.