The Drunkard’s Walk Review

The Drunkard’s walk is a massively insightful book about… luck!

Think you are on a streak of extreme bad luck and failure even though you have the talent to be a star?  You could be right.

Put your successful life down to your immense ability and good looks? You could just have been in the right place at the right time.

History of Randomness

The Greeks did not believe in randomness and thought things worked according to the will of the Gods.

In fact the Greeks didn’t even have a number 0, it wasn’t until the 9th century that the concept of 0 was introduced by an Indian mathematician.

The Romans made some progress but it wasn’t until the 16th century that the first book on uncertainty was published, written by an Italian gambler!

It was at this time in Italy that the scientific revolution was taking place and there were other advancements in the study of chance for example Galileo’s work.

Pascal’s triangle, Pascal’s wager, Principia by Newton, the Bernoulli principle, Bayesian theory, the Laplace distribution and String theory have all helped advance our understanding of probability.

Randomness Rules

Our ability matters but so does randomness…

A stock speculator predicted the outcome of the US stock exchange for 12 years using nothing but the Superbowl to make his predictions…

Bruce Willis would not have got his breakthrough if he hadn’t gone to see his girlfriend in LA and chanced upon an audition for Moonlighting.

Bill Gates happened on a lucky series of events and went on to be the richest man in the world.

An average type of baseball player called Merris beat Babe Ruth’s home run record in 1961.

Understanding Randomness

First impressions count big time!

All of our perceptions are based on the initial information we receive about something and we don’t even realise we are doing it. This shortcut means we are prone to making mistakes and not looking at information objectively.

Many famous authors and moviemakers like George Lucas, JK Rowling and John Grisham had their work rejected countless times before they got a breakthrough.

If a sequence is long enough we will observe many unusual sequences. A sequence of good luck can be viewed as being influenced by skill, a phenomenon called the hot hand fallacy.

Derren Brown uses this principle in The System

A lack of control leads to anxiety so there is a fundamental clash between human nature and the true nature of things.

Conclusions

Do you think rich and successful people are the most gifted and hardest working? They may just have had all the lucky breaks. And take it easy on the beggar in the street, he might have had a serious streak of bad luck that could have happened to anyone.

In your own life remember that the more times you roll the dice the more chance you have of making it – so don’t give up and try lots of things!

Spend more time reflecting on the possibility that you might be wrong about something instead of presuming you are right…

If you really want to get into the spirit of things read Dice Man by Luke Rheinhart and get rolling that dice 😉

Rating:

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Sway, The Irresistible Pull Of Irrational Behaviour – Review

People are irrational. Every day there are unseen psychological forces at work controlling your actions and you are not even aware of them… until you’ve read this book! (unless you’re a psychologist).

Loss Aversion

We don’t want to lose and we’ll do anything to avoid it. Whether its capital tied up in stocks and shares, paying extra for food, or if its our reputation on the line, we avoid loss like the plague. We want to gain but we don’t want to lose more because loss is painful.

If a loss is more meaningful we’ll avoid it even more and even the word loss has a powerful effect on us.

We see a regular $20 being sold for $200 at an auction, people giving up buying eggs and investors losing everything when they refused to cut their losses.

Value Attribution

Our brains have a useful shortcut as to whether we should pay attention to something, we give it an instant value. This shortcut can trip us up though because things aren’t always what they seem. What about that priceless antique at the jumble sale or a world class violinist…

Diagnostic Bias

Beware diagnostic bias. You are constantly labelling things then ignoring or ‘refining’ all future information about it. But what if you were wrong in the first instance?

And its not just you who is affected by your grossly innacurate view of things. People react to the labels placed on them (The Cameleon Effect) and this can have profound effects on a persons ability, confidence and health.

Fairness

Fairness is irrational. People have an acute sense of fairness however it is vastly affected by cultural factors so your idea of whats fair will be different to someone in another part of the world.

Commitment

Committing to a course of action can undoubtedly help us achieve our goals but the examples in the book show catastrophic plane crashes and people losing everything when they commit to a course of action then don’t rationally evaluate things along the way.

Selfish or Altruistic?

When performing tasks we are either being driven by a selfish part of our brain or the altruistic part. Both can’t operate at the same time and the selfish brain will hijack the altruistic brain given half a chance.

For this reason we should be careful to offer a reward for tasks which may be done better for altruistic reasons. Such behaviour has seen great teachers become poor ones and rewarded children perform worse on tests.

Group Dynamics

In groups we see 4 types of people – initiators, blockers, supporters, observers and they are all important in helping the group reach correct decisions. People are reluctant to voice opinions which differ from those of a group, unless someone else has voiced an alternative opinion.

Key Learnings

Irrational sways are everywhere an affecting our lives. Being aware of them can help us to avoid the pitfalls of irrational behaviour.

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