How We Know What Isnít So : The fallibility of human reason in everyday life

Reviewed by:
Thomas Glovich
The Free Press
Alistair Schofield, Managing Director, Extensor Limited

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Not strictly a “business book” but How We Know What Isn’t So is certainly a book that organisational leaders should read as it deals with that most human of conditions – our ability to convince ourselves that black is white, good is bad or up is down.

In reality, our beliefs (or misbeliefs) are rarely as stark as this, which is why we can believe in them despite evidence to the contrary. For example, our belief that people who have had difficulty conceiving a child are more likely to conceive after adopting; or that people become like their pets or that most 4x4s are driven by women with children of school age.

What the book ably demonstrates is that all of these things are myths and that it is in our nature to form these sorts of conclusions.
So why is this of relevance to people in organisational life?

The reason is that most of us carry with us a myriad of assumptions that shape our actions day by day, many of which are probably wrong.
For example, I remember working with an organisation where the main gripe of the CEO was that the staff always wanted to be told what to do and rarely acted on their own initiative. The main gripe of the staff, on the other hand, was that they were too “boxed in” and not allowed to express their own view and act on their own initiative. Clearly both views could not be correct, yet both persisted as a form of self-limiting mind-sets.

So why will reading this book help?

The answer is that it will help lay bare the myths by expressing the reasons why they exist in the first place. Understanding the nature of myths and assumptions helps us to be more challenging of ourselves and others.

Take as an example a person who once came to me for coaching. His challenge was to double the sales of a reasonable-sized company in just 12 months. The task was daunting and in his opinion, unrealistic. We therefore started to build a business model for an organisation that was 10 times the size. Not to define how this business could be 10 times the size, but simply to define what it would look like.

When the work was completed we compared the current business to the hypothetical one and examined the differences. What this showed was that the real challenge of growing the business was not in the sales process, but in the customer service process.

During the year they worked hard in changing the service proposition and by the end of the year they had indeed more than doubled in size.
The point of the story is that had they stuck with their original assumptions they would certainly have increased their costs, probably not have achieved their objectives and done nothing to position the business for future success.

Challenging our assumptions is therefore a useful activity. Read the book and see what you think.

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