What I learned about Behavior from Sway

I’ve just finished a fun, short book called Sway: The Irresistable Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman.

An amazing story in the book explains how an airline’s safety champion became victim to loss aversion and commitment. The captain ignored take-off protocols and ultimately killed everyone on his plane. These subtle psychological forces cause risky, irrational behavior.

A NASA research project attempted to solve this problem as to prevent future disasters. NASA arrived at a solution of training pilots and co-pilots. The co-pilots must speak up and voice dissent, while captains must be receptive to dissent.

Dissent is really hard. Psychologists have found consensus is part of human nature. If no one else opposes the group, it’s hard to raise your own conflicting points. A sort of script is defined to help co-pilots initiate the discussion:

First, state the facts. “Captain, we are currently at 10,000 ft elevation and 30% fuel”

Second, state the captain’s first name. “John”

Third, ask a question: “have you thought about declining fuel levels?”

This dialog is designed to snap the captain out of tunnel vision and save lives.

While it is difficult to go against group think and dissent, it is beneficial to do so. Some teams will even designate a devil’s advocate to intentionally challenge an idea or decision. Even if the group is not swayed, this activity helps find weak points. Then, the final result is better because the weak points can be mitigated, rather than glossed over.

How to Apply It

How many times, daily, do you say a phrase like “I disagree”? If it’s ZERO, maybe dig in and question yourself.

When making a big decision in a group setting, designate a devil’s advocate to debate against the popular opinion.

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