This seductively titled book by three professors at prestigious business schools makes a fetching claim: By releasing our “illusion of control” and accepting the impact of chance, we can actually tip the odds of personal fortune in our favor.
The authors set out to show how common measures we take to improve the four areas of life we hold most dear — health, wealth, success and happiness — are actually counter-productive.
For one thing, they tell us we should stay away from doctors unless we actually feel unwell. They claim good life habits, regular check-ups and periodic cancer screenings don’t predict longevity. The argument, though leaky at times, offers up common sense: seek second opinions, redo bad news exams, and understand treatment options.
On the wealth front, the book suggests that investors, professionals included, regularly try to predict the unpredictable and see patterns where they don’t exist. Curiously, they say, simple forecasting models are more accurate than complex ones, because they do a better job of screening out noise.
The book’s discussion of business success skewers best-selling gurus like Tom Peters and Jim Collins, showing how successes they profiled have since puttered or failed. The lessons: businesses gravitate to mediocrity and must innovate or die; productivity is the only path to profitability, because real wages climb over time while real prices sink.
The authors extensively cite Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” for improving personal performance — it takes a lot of deliberate practice with reliable feedback. But happiness appears to flummox the authors, who wrap up the book with decision-making processes designed to screen out all subjective matters.