You Are Now Less Dumb

You Are Now Less Dumb
by David McRaney
6/7 stars

You Are Now Less Dumb takes seventeen of the concepts introduced in You Are Not So Smart examines them in greater detail, and gives you insight into how to avoid them in the future.. If you want to learn how to overcome your natural psychological shortcomings, this book is for you.

My two favorite subjects were “The Benjamin Franklin Effect” and “Enclothed Cognition”. The Franklin effect essentially states that people who do favors for you are more likely to think favorably toward you. Franklin famously (and counterintuitively) asked to borrow a rare book from a man who had loudly criticised him in a public forum. The man not only let Franklin borrow the book, he became one of Franklin’s strongest supporters after that. The brain assumes that if you do something nice for someone else, you must like that person. Therefore, your attitude changes.

Your attitude is also affected by how you look. Clothing you wear can make a difference in how well you think, how creative you are, and how you view yourself. This is enclothed cognition. It is fascinating to see how the associations you make with clothing can actually change your brain function.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in thinking about thinking.

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This Will Make You Smarter

This Will Make You Smarter

Edited by John Brockman

4/7 stars

“What scientific concept would improve everybody’s cognitive toolkit?” Interesting question, no? Edge.org posited this question and published 151 answers from scientists, doctors, journalists and authors. Each answer was about 1-5 pages long, and most involved scientific principles.

It is a very pro-science book. Now, I am not anti-science. I believe that most people would benefit from putting more scientific principles and practices into their everyday lives. That said, I do not think that science is the be all and end all of the human experience. Many if not all of the articles in this book seems to disagree with me. Several articles also made comments like “Our religions are clearly false, even if certain classically religious experiences are worth having” (213). I happen to have a different stance on that subject.

All in all, this book was good to read as it made me think about some of my thought patterns and processes. I would not call this book a must read, but it’s also probably not a waste of your time.

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You Are Not So Smart

You Are Not So Smart by David McRaney
7/7 stars

I find cognition fascinating. You Are Not So Smart is a collection of articles about the misconceptions and fallacies that nearly everyone suffers from. The first several chapters I felt like I already knew everything in the book. I was familiar with about half of the studies that McRaney referenced. It did not take long, however, for McRaney to bring up studies and examples that I had not seen before. By the time I read the quote of Lord Vetinari in the chapter on Confirmation Bias, I was hooked.

Simply being aware of various fallacies can sometimes be enough to help counteract them. Many of the things mentioned in the book are unconscious behaviors and biases. Through this book I discovered a number of things that I need to work on personally, such as the fundamental attribution error, self-handicapping, and embodied cognition.

I would highly suggest that anyone interested in psychology read You Are Not So Smart. I plan on reading McRaney’s other book You Are Now Less Dumb as well.

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The House of Gucci

The House of Gucci by Sara G. Forden

5/7 stars

This book tells the history of the fashion house Gucci, from its founding in 1921 to 2000. The subtitle of The House of Gucci is “A Sensational story of Murder, Madness, Glamour, and Greed”. I thought that would be an exaggeration. It was not. In fact, it might have understated how bonkers the situation was.

Gucci was a family owned business, with leadership passed down from father to sons. There were multiple sons who then also had multiple sons. The leadership became diluted and fragmented, with different men having different ideas about the future of the company. This led to fights. Literally. Also multiple law suits, inheritance disputes, fraud, near bankruptcy, hostile takeover attempts, and yes, a murder.

The House of Gucci was a fascinating study on how not to leave a legacy to your progeny. None of the sons seems to have been trained in running a company at all. They instead did so by charm and intuition. That cannot work for long, especially with a company as large as Gucci. Strong leadership and a unified voice are also needed to keep a company focused. The company only throve when all of these qualities were combined, either in one person or several.

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Red Queen

Red Queen
by Victoria Aveyard
1/7 stars

(some spoilers, if you care)

I put this book on my list because it won a Goodreads Choice Award. Often when that happens, a book is worth my time and I enjoy the read. Unfortunately for me (and my friends to whom I read snippets aloud) this book was terrible. There was little to nothing redeeming in the prose, story, or ideas. I have no idea why anyone would find Red Queen enjoyable, much less commendable.

Let’s start with what I consider to be essential in a fantasy volume: world-building. The world is presented as a fundamentally simple one. There are the Silvers (whom we hate) and the Reds. They are called Silvers and Reds because of the color of their blood. Literally. The Silvers (whom we still hate) rule the land – or possibly the world, it was hard to tell – because they have superpowers. The Reds are the underlings because they don’t. Well, except for our heroine. She is special.

The Silvers’ powers include mind control in various forms, elemental bending, fostering flora, and negating another’s powers. The powers are apparently genetic, as families share the same powers. Unfortunately, Aveyard breaks her own rules on this by the end of the book, so I am forced to assume that power distribution is random.

The Reds are supposed as being horribly oppressed, except that there is very little evidence that they are so. There is military conscription for some groups, and not enough jobs to go around. Additionally, the Silvers are richer, some opulently so.

Obviously, our heroine has to be a Red. How would she be a Mary Sue otherwise? She is not only from the lower class, she also 1) has a perfect younger sister 2) ends up having powers because plot 3) has three love interests (two of which are princes) 4) is raised up to princessdom and 5) secretly works for the rebellion. I am sure there is more. I honestly lost track of how trope filled and cliche ridden this character is. And since the book is written from first person, you cannot get away from her.

Did I mention we hate the Silvers? In case you ever forget, it comes up every other page of the book in some form. But actually, though. I looked. Let me be perfectly clear on this. The writing is bad. Word choice, style, and storytelling all make it painfully obvious that this is a first novel. My husband and my friends can attest that I read multiple passages aloud just to hear the groans and/or rage that I could get in response. One response included an observation that failed romance novelists could probably write better.

After the first chapter I started trying to predict what would happen next. It was far too easy. In theory, there was a big twist at the end. Except nothing about it was remotely surprising. It wasn’t even interesting. It was so cliched that I was bored during the ending chapters. The sad thing was, they were the most interesting part of the book.

If there had been just one original idea in this book, it would have prevented a lot of my ire. As it stands, I doubt I will ever read anything by Aveyard again.

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Microtrends

Microtrends: The small forces behind tomorrow’s big changes
By Mark J. Penn with E. Kinney Zalesne
5/7 stars

Trends tend to be easy to spot, at least when they are on a large scale. Everyone knows that bellbottoms were popular in the 70’s, and grunge wasn’t widespread until the 90’s. It is much harder, however, to spot a microtrend. Penn defines a microtrend as a trend that affects 1% of the population. This is big enough to be a viable market and small enough that the market is most likely untapped. In Microtrends, Penn examines 75 different microtrends and their possible implications.

It should be noted that this book was published in 2007. A few of the things he pointed out, like the rise in bankruptcies and subprime mortgages, were incredibly relevant in the next few years in the economy.  A few others, such as stay at home dads and internet dating, are no longer really news.

What I found interesting about this book is the slightly historical perspective I could take on it. DIY doctors sure got a leg up thanks to WebMd. No, the pet industry didn’t explode quite like Penn thought it would, but boy, Greece and Italy sure had reasons to be concerned about the lack of jobs for their young people in 2007. Senator Obama was mentioned several times as and up and coming politician.

As any book written nearly a decade ago, Microtrends has some things that are relevant and some things that aren’t. That said, I think it is worth looking at a snapshot of the culture and seeing how it has developed.

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Contagious

Contagious
by Jonah Berger
6/7 stars

Why do some ads work when others don’t? What makes a video go viral? Why on earth is the McRib popular? These are questions that Berger addresses in Contagious. He posits the idea that trends and popularity are governed by six different factors in the product’s presentation to the world. He then goes on to examine these ideas through the studies he has done in relation to them. Not every element has to be in place for something to succeed, but the more you have the better your chances.

First of all, a product tends to catch on if is has social currency. Social currency means something to talk about with friends, something that boosts your social status, or even a feeling of exclusivity. It is also helpful if a product is triggered frequently. A trigger is something that you closely associate with the product. One of the examples was Kit Kat and coffee. It’s catchy and alliterative, but it is also linking Kit Kat with your daily coffee break.

Sharing is key. You want something to be more public than private. Some things are more public than others, but there are ways to boost your product’s visibility. One of the best ways to get people to think about or share something is through emotion. Not all emotions work, though. A sense of awe or happiness work really well, but sadness not so much. Anger or fear, however, those also work. If you can get a heightened response from someone on either end of the spectrum, you are more likely to get shares than if you make someone contented.

Another thing that increases sharing is to offer something of practical value. This one is self-explanatory, so I won’t delve into it. Finally, people respond strongly to stories. Stories are how humans have communicated for thousands of years. It makes sense to utilize them today as well

I would highly recommend this book to anyone even vaguely interested in trends, marketing, or psychology. It is fascinating and well written.

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