Association Executive Book Shelf

Book reviews by Raphael Badagliacca

The Art of Thinking ClearlyThe Art of Thinking Clearly
by Rolf Dobelli (Published by Harper Collins, 2013).

The first duty of any leader is to think clearly. This book explores 99 ways that humans are predisposed to think in muddled ways, draw inaccurate conclusions, and act accordingly. I guarantee that some of these thinking biases will be familiar to you. Many of them were to me. And once you have the author’s clarifications in mind, they will naturally come into play when you are about to make the next decision.

Here are some of my favorites:

  • Clustering Illusion: why you see shapes in the clouds.
  • Availability Bias: why we prefer a wrong map to none at all.
  • Sunk Cost Fallacy: why you should forget the past.
  • Groupthink: the calamity of conformity.
  • Not-Invented Here Syndrome: don’t think nothing can beat what we create ourselves.
  • Social Proof Bias: don’t credit the herd instinct.
  • Confirmation Bias: don’t interpret data to support preconceived notions.
  • Hindsight Bias: don’t get lulled into thinking you are a better predictor than you are.
  • Overconfidence Effect: don’t overestimate the knowledge and abilities of “experts.”
  • Incentive Super- Response Tendency: don’t pay by the hour… self-interest rules.
  • Outcome Bias: don’t judge a decision purely by its outcome.
  • Liking Bias: don’t choose suppliers on how much you like them or how much they seem to like you.
  • Endowment Effect: don’t cling to things.
  • Coincidence: don’t get taken in by the seeming inevitability of unlikely events.

… plus much, much more.

This is an eye-opening work for anyone whose primary job is to make decisions, and that clearly includes executives charged with leading their non-profit organizations to fulfill their missions.

Churchill & Orwell: The Fight for FreedomChurchill & Orwell: The Fight for Freedom
by Thomas E. Ricks (Published by Penguin Press, 2017).

What could a book about two figures who came to prominence in the WW II era possibly have to say to leaders of today’s associations and other types of non-profit organizations?

I knew I would include this book in this column when I read a paragraph about the key factor in London’s ability to withstand the daily onslaught of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain. Better data management, especially a system of alerts which made the data dynamic.

According to the author, Britain’s data system tracked the exact location of enemy planes and got the RAF into the air within four minutes. It also helped that native soil was friendly to ejected pilots, and that refueling was much less of a consideration than it was for the Luftwaffe. There is also a lesson in Hitler’s decision to give Goering, a politician more than a military man, leadership of the air force.

The author presents Churchill as an extremely detail-oriented leader on a clear mission, but not so bogged down that he could not fulfill his constant insistence to distinguish the “essential” from the merely “important.” A guideline for any leader of anything.

The historical moment brought out the best in both men. Orwell’s works before his involvement in the Spanish Civil War do not compare to the major works by which we know him – Animal Farm and 1984. Like the Churchill of that period, he was a keen observer of totalitarianism from the right and the left, and had no illusions about its disregard of the individual. Like Churchill, he stood alone and never wavered.

Both men are known for the accuracy of their visions of the future. Both observed. Both looked at the data. Both reached conclusions based on the data and stepped into action, with sword or pen.

For non-profit leaders, I like this prescription that by understanding data on both the tactical and strategic levels and letting it guide action, the mission can be fulfilled.