I heard about Zachary Shore’s Blunder: Why Smart People Make Bad Decisions via an interview with the author by D.J. Grothe on his Point of Inquiry podcast. Shore approaches the problem of cognition traps (his term for the different types of errors we make when trying to make decisions) as an historian. His descriptions of the different traps are followed by historical examples of how the traps have led to bad decisions and/or how particular historical figures have avoided certain traps. Shore’s end notes were helpful and his writing style was fairly easy to follow, once I got over his neologisms. He covers seven types of cognition traps: exposure anxiety, causefusion (confusing the causes of complex events), flatview, cure-allism, infomania (both hording and avoiding), mirror imaging and static cling. Several of these traps overlap each other in terms of some of their underlying causes (hope I’m not causefusing things here….);for example, flatview and static cling both derive their particular “badness” from a black-and-white view of the world. That said, I appreciated Shore taking the time to point out the finer details and differences amongst the traps. Recognizing a trap and finding the best way to avoid it depend on the ability to identify the different manifestations of restricted thinking.
The penultimate chapter covers the mistakes of the Iraq War in terms of cognition traps. Given Shore’s tendency to use examples from throughout the history of mankind, these Iraq War examples seem a bit premature. They may be “timely” ways to help teach the subject, but that’s all the reader should take them for. The last chapter provides advice for avoiding all the cognition traps. Shore uses two very interesting true stories to point out the benefits of mental flexibility.
This is not “The one book you must read to completely understand cognitive errors,” but it is a nice complement to the science-based titles I’ve read so far. Shore is not a scientist (as he clearly states and as some of his stories and suggestions clearly show), but his perspective on how to define, recognize and avoid poor thinking from the viewpoint of an historian is very interesting and helpful.