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BLUNDER by Zachary Shore

BLUNDER

Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions

By Zachary Shore

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2008
ISBN: 978-1-59691-242-7
Publisher: Bloomsbury

A look at the ways the best-laid plans can be bedeviled, mostly by the planners themselves.

It’s easy to make bad decisions. Think of the guy who didn’t sign The Beatles, saying that guitar bands were on the way out. Or think of Thomas Edison, the first case study that Shore (National Security Affairs/Naval Postgraduate School; Breeding Bin Ladens: America, Islam, and the Future of Europe, 2006, etc.) offers. Edison waged a near war with former employee Nikola Tesla over alternating versus direct current, his resistance to the former constituting “the biggest blunder of his life.” Shore enumerates the “seven cognition traps” of decision making, the first of which is “exposure anxiety,” the fear that someone will realize what a jackass the person who is pondering an action truly is, which gives birth to such bad decisions as George Orwell’s fateful one to gun down an elephant. Shore, like many writers in the genre, is an aficionado of icky neologisms, including “causefusion,” which is pretty much what it sounds like, and “infomisering,” namely, guarding information to excess and being stingy with identifying the needy in the need-to-know formula. “Cure-allism,” however, has a nice ring to it, and its definition is even better: “a dogmatic belief that a successful theory can be applied indiscriminately.” These terms and more figure in Shore’s well-chosen case studies, all of which lead to a resounding climax that may land Shore in difficulty with his military bosses: The invasion of Iraq was born of all seven species of bad decision making, which “combined to sabotage America’s success.”

Eye-opening, though sometimes too pop-psychy for comfort.