Book review: Sway by Ori and Rom Brafman

I’ve just finished reading “Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behaviour” by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman. The book explains why even the most rational of human beings will most certainly, at some point in his/her life, make some irrational decisions, illustrating this with several examples and empirical research.

The key to understanding this phenomenon is, unsurprisingly, in our brain which sometimes sways into a path of irrationality due to some very human conditionings:

» a desire to avoid losses – we dread losing, it cause us pain, up to the point where we let our judgment and decisions be cluttered by the supreme desire to avoid losses. This happens especially when we are focused on the short term

» a failure to consider all the evidence – especially if we are compromised (attached) to the object of the decision itself (our own business, for example)

» difficulty in perceiving a person or situation beyond the initial impression – ah, those damn first impressions1). We can’t help them, they guide us in a world of limited information and time. But what really clouds our judgement are no so much those first impressions, but our inability to change our opinion upon further evidence, or our persistent desire to find evidence (sometimes inexistent) that confirm that first portrait of a person or situation

» reluctance to alter a plan that isn’t working – or as I call it the stubborn effect. Well, this arises from the fact that it is not easy for us to accept that things are not working, to accept failure, end things and just move on

None of the reasons presented in this book were particularly surprising to me. Nevertheless, the book shows that the Brafman brothers were careful to include empirical research that supports and explains the stories presented, which is commendable.

All in all a good and easy weekend read, though not an outstanding book in my opinion.

1) if even the strong minded Elizabeth Bennett was able to see beyond the initial prejudice against Mr. Darcy, so can we! (only Jane Austen fans will understand this one 🙂 )


2 thoughts on “Book review: Sway by Ori and Rom Brafman

  1. re: reluctance to alter a plan that isn’t working

    This phenomena was first documented in 1976 by Professor Barry Staw of Berkeley Uni in a journal artikle titled “Knee deep in the big muddy: A study of escalating commitment to a chosen course of action”. The artikle remains the authority on the behaviour, and is the source for the phrase Staw’s Escalation Bias or Escalation Bias

    I would highly recommend reading the artikle. I think you will enjoy it.


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