Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior

What makes a customer decide to buy from a competitor when your item was clearly the better choice? What do a lovesick college freshman and making a bad hiring decision have in common? What can a fatal plane crash in Tenerife teach us about how intelligent people make bad decisions?

In their book Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior, Ori and Rom Brafman provide insights into those dynamic forces that derail logical thinking and sabotage decision making. They provide a host of examples of how both everyday and life-and-death decisions are “swayed.”

Readers involved in marketing will gain a greater understanding of how value attribution influences consumer decisions. To demonstrate the human tendency to “imbue someone or something with certain qualities based on perceived value rather than objective data,” the Brafmans cite an experiment that involved world-renowned violinist Joshua Bell. Wearing jeans and a baseball cap instead of his usual tuxedo, Bell played—on his $3.5 million Stradivarius—Bach’s “Sonatas and Partitas for Unaccompanied Violin” at the L’Enfant subway station in Washington, D.C., during the morning rush hour.

“For all intents and purposes, Bell looked like your average, run-of-the-mill street performer,” the Brafmans write. Without realizing it, over 1,097 commuters on that January morning were swayed into discounting the true value of this gifted artist as they waited for their train. Why? Perhaps because the concert was free. Or was it the fact that he was not packaged in his formal attire or not performing in a world-class concert hall? At this point a reader is likely to think about how customers view their brand, staff, merchandise presentations, visual presentation, and perhaps even themselves.

For readers involved in sales management, the Brafmans offer insights into how greater financial compensation does not necessarily elicit greater performance. In fact, their study demonstrates that it can have an adverse impact on some desired outcomes.

In a chapter titled “Michael Jordan and the First Date Interview,” the reader discovers why interviews are an ineffective way to determine a job candidate’s future performance and how first impressions of a person can be altered by a mere word.

The book provides a glimpse into why our aversion to loss can sway us into deciding to maintain the status quo. Readers will learn how specific underlying psychological influences cause us to act in irrational ways in both our personal and professional lives.

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