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August 15, 2008

Jack Covert Selects: Jack Covert Selects - Sway

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 2:45 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman, Doubleday Business, 206 Pages, $21.95, Hardcover, June 2008, ISBN 9780385524384
Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan. It's the 1984 NBA draft and the Portland Trail Blazers choose a promising 7-footer over the future face of basketball. It's one of the great "what were they thinking?" coulda/woulda moments in sports history. But, as Sway informs us, the thought process that led to that decision may very well point to many of our own boneheaded shortcomings in business and everyday life.
The Brafman Brothers--Ori, the coauthor of The Starfish and the Spider, and Rom, with a Ph.D. in Psychology--team together their professional insights of behavior to outline the ways in which (and why) "we're much more prone to irrational behavior than we realize" (4).
In the preface, the authors joke that, along with their lawyer uncle, they form the Jewish mother's equivalent of the holy trinity--lawyer, doctor, businessman. This anecdote is indicative of the casual, pickup-and-skim nature of the work, but the conclusions they come to are striking, pertinent, and universal to our very nature as human beings. There are certain mistakes we simply seem prone to: we tend to go to great lengths to avoid possible loss, we give people and things qualities based on initial perception, and we are largely blind to all evidence that contradicts our initial assessments. For instance, researchers have found that "the variable most responsible for an NBA player's time on the court ... was his draft selection order"(69).
This book is far from a copy-and-paste work of case studies, though. Instead, the Brafmans guide the reader through a chilling tale of a doomed KLM flight, an era of college football dominance, and a deaf ear turned to one of the greatest violinists alive. And their conclusion? We are basically out of tune with the inherent subconscious nuances that really shape so much of our decisions and world. The authors expose many of those nuances, providing insights and lessons that should help the reader avoid similar lapses in judgment.
Sway is more than a worthy addition to the emerging canon of "way we think"
literature. It is part history lesson, part psychological query, and part catalog of some of the greatest foibles of recent human history--and why they were made (Vietnam, unveiled!). You'll also find within these pages that personal applications abound, including ways to prevent a repeat of the Trail Blazer's historic misjudgment of talent. As the Brafmans point out, the entire way your company hires may be obsolete, and you wouldn't want to let insignificant factors prevent the hiring of the future Michael Jordan of your sales team.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.