I just finished reading a book called Why We Make Mistakes by Joseph T. Hallinan. With a great deal of research and case studies he concludes that the average person make mistakes because:

• We look but don’t always see
• We connect the dots
• We wear rose-colored glasses
• We can walk and chew gum-but not much else
• We skim
• We shoot first
• We all think we’re above average
• We would rather wing it
• We don’t constrain ourselves

Each of the observations brought about an “a-ha” moment for me to realize that there is distinct reasoning behind the gaffe’s and errors I make on a regular basis. What I found most helpful though was the concise conclusion of how to make fewer mistakes:

1. Think small. Little things mean a lot.

2. Think negatively. Ask yourself: what could go wrong?

3. Let multiple people proofread. What a colleague may miss, a spouse may catch. What a spouse may miss, your kids may catch. Etc. Etc.

4. Remember that multitasking is a mirage. There are limits to the number of things we can do at one time, and the more we do, the greater the chance for error.

5. Beware of the anecdote. When making decisions get accurate information and averages not testimonials. Diet companies make their money off of testimonials but look at the fine print: “Amount of weight loss is NOT typical.”

6. Get some sleep. Even moderate sleep deprivation can cause brain impairment equivalent to driving drunk.

7. Be happy. Happy people tend to be more creative and less prone to errors induced by habit.

And finally, Hallinan, says that one thing that DOES NOT seem to eliminate mistakes is money. Financial incentives do not affect average performance. People will work harder on a problem, though they will not necessarily work any smarter.

Why We Make Mistakes
by Joseph T. Hallinah
Broadway Books // 2009


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