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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Book Review: Amazing Decisions: The Illustrated Guide to Improving Business Deals and Family Meals by Dan Ariely, illustrated by Matt R. Trower

So, I am the daughter of an economist, so I'm not your typical lay reader of books like this. Plus I have read three of his previous books (and own a fourth) so I am well-versed in his theories and ways of thinking. In fact, I was a little worried about possibly finding this book redundant or too basic. But not at all!

In a nutshell, the book covers the two basic types of motivation: financial and social. I make some decisions for financial considerations, but a lot of others, including some you might think of as financial like how hard I work at my job, turns out to have more of a social motivation. I am friends with most of my accounts, and most of my colleagues. One colleague, Ben, and I work jointly every season on a huge project we have to do before we can go on the road. No one told us or even suggested that we join up and do it as a team--it happened organically, and I really like how we help each other on it. All this is fairly self-evident when you pay attention, but the book gave me a huge insight. My SO had a previous job that was baffling to me. It was not great with a not great boss, but somehow the job was so much worse than that. I've had plenty of those myself in the past, but none of them seemed as soul-sucking as this one. And he kept reporting things that I found really confusing, like how he couldn't get anyone, no matter how much he begged and pleaded, to cover shifts for him when we would go on vacation, despite having covered shifts for all of them in the past. I just found that so weird. Weirder still: this was a job in the helping community at a non-profit, where people supposedly do the job for the love of it, not for the really low pay. So why were all of his colleagues so difficult and uncooperative?

Well it turns out, the way his boss had injected finances into their everyday workplace was the problem! She was daily nickel and diming them on everything. Every minute of every day it seems she was pressuring them to keep costs unreasonably low. And she was miserly with giving them any time to do mandated reporting, for example, as that was a minute they weren't seeing a billable client. By bringing the finances of the company into the day to day workplace, no one was motivated by social factors any longer. As Dan Ariely explained about one study done: when workers were paid more to make more widgets on Monday and Tuesday, while their productivity went up those two days, it went down so hard on Wednesday through Friday, that overall the employees made fewer widgets than previously. When the only reward you ever get is money, and never a "well done" or "great job" or "I so appreciate that," you learn that your employer only thinks of you as a revenue generator, not a human, and eventually you learn to turn that attitude back around on them as well. It's particularly toxic, and was especially bizarre in that environment. But it was nice to suddenly have it all make sense, even if it's bad sense.

This book is a good primer of some real basics of decision-making and the underpinnings of a lot of behavioral economics. It tries hard to not be dry (well, it's economics so you've got to be prepared for a bit of that going in) and I found it overall fun and like an extended, older version of a Schoolhouse Rocks.

This book is published by Hill & Wang, an imprint of FSG, a division of Macmillan, my employer.

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