How often do you look at a situation in life and then make a decision based on what other people have done in the past in such situations? Put differently, you are on your way to work on a busy, hazy Monday morning when you suddenly meet a small crowd of people starring into the sky and without thinking, you join them and stare into the sky (at what you do not know) and hence end up wasting more time? Or when you are sited in an auditorium watching a presentation then all over a sudden, someone at the back starts clapping and before you know it, everyone else in the auditorium, including you, is clapping? Well, this is social proof a concept that dictates to us to instinctively follow what the crowd is doing because according to the “herd mentally”, we feel more comfortable when we ascribe to an idea that has more followers.
Well, it could be time to rethink your herd instinct. Rolf Dobelli in his 2013 book: The Art of Thinking Clearly elaborates novelist W. Somerset Maugham’s words that, “If 50 million people say something foolish, it is still foolish.” This means that even if the whole country (I think we are a little close to 40 million people in this country) is laughing at a dry joke, it does not simply become validated as a good joke because it made everyone laugh; it has to pass the litmus of a good joke. Similarly, he implores skepticism whenever a company markets a product as its best simply because it is the most popular, for how is a product better simply because it sells the most units? He pauses. According to him, humans are wired to go for what others are going for so it could be an uncritical form of popularity and hence fail to reflect the truest sense of the product.
Are you still interested in these strange-sounding perspectives? Do you feel inspired to begin to pause and look at ordinary things with a little more than an ordinary sense? Then you should grab a piece of Rolf Dobelli’s book The Art of Thinking Clearly and read through the compilations of his findings that he has put together over a period of time after his own cognitive errors were awakened and he realised that putting a name to these errors would be a good place to start the conversation on cognitive errors which all human beings make.
Primarily an entrepreneur and a novelist, Rolf Dobelli who holds an MBA and PhD in Economic Philosophy does not see himself as an expert in a social science discipline but rather, considers himself a translator whose job is to interpret and synthesise what he has read and learnt from real life experiences as well as cognitive and social psychology over the past three decades. The book is divided into 99 short chapters that run from between two to three pages totaling to 326 pages, was originally written in German and translated to English by Nicky Griffin.
The Art of Thinking Clearly uses short illustrations within the chapters to illustrate a point that the author wishes to highlight. The book is witty and has rich use of the English language that makes one wonders what it must feel like to read it in its original language before anything was lost in translation. The book can appeal to any reader with a critical look and reading abilities and can serve both entertaining and educative purposes. The situations – perhaps thematic concerns—captured in the book cut across all the spheres of life including education, existential issues, business, politics, spiritual as well as social beliefs.
The Art of Thinking Clearly is a worthy reading for anyone who wishes to better understand the world in which they live as well as contribute to the discourse about the various instances that we fail to think clearly because even Dobelli admits that the list he has put down in this book is not exhaustive. The book was published by Hodder & Stoughton Limited, London and it is locally available in Kenya in leading bookshops. You can down a summary of it here.