The CIO Reading List: The Undoing Project

The CIO Reading List: The Undoing ProjectWhenever I spend time with other CIOs, the subject almost invariably turns to a book one of us has read. And I’m gratified that the types of books that come up in these conversations are rarely what you’d call ‘IT books’ or ‘management books’.

The CIOs I meet are well-rounded and well-read Renaissance people. They’re informed and find inspiration in many different places.

With that in mind, welcome to the first of a new blog series called The CIO Reading List. Every few months I’ll share a book that has made an impact on me or shaped my perspective and career. They will definitely cover a wide range of topics.

I hope you enjoy the series and please share your favorite books in the comments section below so we can all learn from each other. 

The first book I’d like to talk about, The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis because it‘s both inspiring and humbling.

The close friendship between two brilliant researchers, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, and the impact they made on the world is truly inspiring. The book challenges long established assumptions about how we make decisions and, in usual Lewis style, it covers everything from selecting basketball players in the draft to deciding the probability that war will break out.

Before Tversky and Kahneman came along, economics was based on a belief that individuals were rational actors. That we always do the rational thing or the thing that the data supports. Kahneman and Tversky exploded that assumption, unleashing waves of new research about how minds, groups, companies, markets and economies really work.

Michael Lewis discovered their ideas when he was writing his best-seller, Moneyball, the story of how an under-funded manager’s fresh approach to baseball data changed the fortunes of a team and up-ended the assumptions behind the whole sport.

What this Book Means for CIOs

A lot of our work as CIOs can be seen as an effort to get the right data, to the right people to influence and improve their decision-making. But the work described in Lewis’s book reminds us that the human mind isn’t very good at turning data into accurate predictions and decisions. Behavioral psychology has now identified a whole range of biases that significantly distort the way people—even highly trained experts–turn data into action.

For me, this has real implications for CIOs:

  1. It’s not enough to simply deliver accurate data to decision-makers. We need to understand that how this data is presented can distort decisions as well as inform them. It may not be entirely our job to fix that, but if we’re in the impact business, we need to understand it.
  2. We can’t assume that our data will tell its own story. As we all drive change in our companies, we need to shape our arguments so that they make the most impact.
  3. We’re just as prone to bad decision-making as everyone else. We need to be more suspicious of our own decision-making as CIOs— whether we’re choosing a road map, an enterprise architecture, or a vendor.

I hope you find the book as powerful and as moving as I did. If so, you’ll also like Thinking, Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman, who went on to win a Nobel Prize for his work.

What great books do you think your fellow CIOs would enjoy? Please post them in the comments section below or if you’re on Twitter, please tweet me @e_graeme