The Wisest One In The Room

The Wisest One In The Room - how to harness psychology's most powerful insights

ISBN: 978-1451677546

READ: 2016-02-15

AUTHORS: Thomas Gilovich and Lee Ross

Psychology crosses academic boundaries to offer practical advice to successfully tackle major challenges, such as negotiation, education, climate change, money-spending. A unique exposition of naïve realism, aka the art of self-deception, complemented with scientific, ’59-second’ happiness hints. Eye-opening, concise and yet very precious.

Now you can also be the wisest one in the room.





“A wise person goes beyond the information that is immediately available.” p.4


“A knowledgeable person knows a lot about what and how, but a wise person understands why.” p.5



The Objectivity Illusion


“The tendency to treat our sense of what’s out there as a matter of objective perception rather than subjective interpretation lies at the root of many types of human folly.

[…] Recognizing that you and everyone else is a naïve realist is a vital step in becoming a wiser person.” p.17


“The wisest one in the room can at least try to distinguish disagreements about facts and interpretations from disagreements about values and preferences.” p.26

(Often lasts cause formers, therefore a general better understanding of the main values brings a wider understanding about someone’s interpretations of facts)


“Bias is much easier to recognise in others than in oneself.” p.28


“People are sometimes quite willing to acknowledge that their personal experiences have influenced their judgement.

But they insist that far from being a source of bias, their particular experiences are a source of enlightenment.” p.32


“A wise person recognises that there are two sides of every coin: A vantage point that makes some things easy to see can obscure considerations that would be obvious from another perspective.” p.33


“Those on the other side are likely to have similar feelings and convictions not because they are dishonest but because they too are naïve realists.” p.36


#decision-making and #forecasting

“The input of even a single other person can lead to markedly better estimates and predictions.” p.38

“We pay a price for assuming that our own assessments are better than those of other people with similar information and expertise.

The wisest in the room tries to reduce that price by reasoning together to narrow disagreements and, when in doubt, finding a middle ground.” p.40




The Push And Pull Of Situations


“The wisest one in the room reserves judgement until the details of the situational pressures facing that person have been given due consideration.” p.45


“One of the big things that default options change is the meaning that people assign to the choices they face.” p.48


“A more fruitful strategy is to identify, and then eliminate, the obstacles standing in the way of the desired behaviour.” p.51


“Nudge change norms.” p.52

(Yes, something very little can change one’s behaviour better than strong impositions. It’s about letting them believing that they’re acting out of their own will. There’s nothing better than that.)



“Make the actions you want to encourage easier, akin to moving downhill; make the actions you want to discourage more difficult, akin to moving uphill.” p.55


“Effective action is often best accomplished by capitalising in behavioural momentum and harnessing the power of step-by-step progression.” p.62



“The wisest in the room understands that the secret to getting big things done is to get the ball rolling, take additional smallish steps one at a time, block whatever channels make it easy to get sidetracked, and then count on the boost in motivation that comes when the end is in sight.” p.62


“There is no creature whose inward being is so strong that it is not greatly determined by what lies outside it.”

George Eliot, p.65


“If you want to be the wisest in the room, discipline yourself not to rush to judgment about individuals until you know, and feel you truly appreciate, the situational forces and constraints that are making their influence felt.” p.70




The Name Of The Game


“Although people are greatly influenced by the specific features of the situation that confronts them, the wisest one in the room recognises that it is not just the objective features of the situation that matter. No less important, and

often more important, is the way people subjectively interpret that situation – the meaning it has for them in terms of their experiences, values, and goals, and in light of social norms they see as relevant.” p.73


“People act less consistently across situations that is generally assumed.” p.77


“How we interpret a situation is at once an interpretation of the stimuli before us and of different possible responses.” p.79


“Most people really are above average, at least when their own criteria are taken into account.” p.88


“If we want our choices to reflect our abstract values,

it’s therefore a god idea to choose, or imagine choosing, from a more distant perspective – for example, by imagining how we’re likely to feel looking back at a decision a year or so after the fact.” p.89




The Primacy Of Our Behaviour


“Our experience of emotion is the experience of our bodies responding to events.” p.103


“Attending to your actions, instead of concentrating on how you ‘really feel’, can help you win the day.” p.108


“The idea is that knowledge of your own internal state is largely arrived at by he same inferential leap from observed behaviour to private feelings and priorities that you would make about anyone else who acted he same way under the same circumstances.”

“What we get from introspection is indeed weak, ambiguous, and uninterpretable far more often than most people imagine.”

“It seems that we know the contents of our own minds less well than we think, and so were often in the same position as an outside observer, who must infer what we think or feel.” p.111


“There are pronounced psychological benefits to commitment. […]

The full power of dissonance reduction will be exercised only once a commitment is made.” p. 115


“The very circumstances that make us feel the most dissonance about our actions

(i.e., low compensation, high effort, or high costs endured, especially when we had a lot of freedom in deciding to take those actions)

are the ones that make us most inclined to decide that we enjoyed the or greatly value what we accomplished.” p.119


“When it comes to offering incentives, applying pressure, or providing justifications, less is more.”

“(note, however, that there is danger in not exerting enough pressure)” p. 121


“It is not the stimulus itself that drives behaviour, but how the stimulus is understood.

The impact of incentives and constraints on motivation and behaviour depends on how they are construed.” p.122


“The surest way to spot your rationalisations is to ask how you wold respond if someone else offered the same justification.” p. 125


“The rationalisation of evil, and of inactivity in face of evil, is as great a threat to humankind as the cruel motives of the perpetrators.” p.130




Keyholes, Lenses, and Filters 


“Wisdom doesn’t require that we never act on non rational impulses and impressions. But it does require some understanding of how our two “minds” interact.” p.135


“Many mistakes are made not because the right answer is too hard but because the wrong answer is too easy.” p.136


“To determine whether something is true, it’s necessary to survey both the evidence for and against.” p.139


“Extraordinary claims require the support of extraordinarily convincing data.” p.145


“All things being equal,

it’s reasonable to assume that empirical methods that yield evidence confirming existing beliefs are more sound and more informative than methods producing data at odds with existing beliefs.” p.146


“It’s okay to interpret data in light of a prior theory, but it’s not okay to then use that same “processed” data to validate that theory.” p.146


“What you need to do is to slow down and consciously look for information that challenges whatever proposition you are evaluating, especially if the proposition conforms to your current views or preferences.”

“When people are encouraged to ask themselves ‘Why might my initial impression be wrong?’ or ‘Why might the opposite be true?’, they tend to show less of confirmation bias and, as a result, make far more accurate assessments.” p.147


“Critical information is typically hidden from us, at least by strangers, acquaintances, or relatively distant friends.” p. 151


“People are accurate in anticipating the status they are granted by other members of their group.” p.151



“An important component of wisdom is knowing when and how you – and your behaviour – have influenced the very information you are using to form judgements and make decisions.” p.155



 The Happiest One In The Room


“In the face of adversity, adaptation is our greatest asset.” p.167


“Overall assessments of the quality of life are not a matter of simply adding up moment-to-moment experiences of pain and pleasure. Instead, such assessments are dictated by the broader meaning we give to our everyday experiences.” p.170

This quote remarks the importance of attitude over a balance of gains and losses. Attitude is the glue that makes sense of seemingly random, unlinked events.


“Act like a happy person, and you will find it easier to be one.

Don’t waist your energy denigrating paths not taken or choices not made. Avoid social comparisons that put you at the short end of the stick. Savor the great times you had and the blessings you enjoyed in the past rather than dwelling on what may be lacking in your life today. But also seek out experiences that will contribute to your happiness right now”. p.173


Is there anything better than receive such strong directives by two of the most prominent psychologists? Sure, you’d better think on your own when thinking about your happiness. These guys have been studying its science, though. Simple rules have one major benefit: they are easy to follow. Sometimes, it might be everything you need to feel a little better.


“Memory does not make films, it makes photographs.”

Milan Kundera, p.175

Also known as the “peak end” rule, documented by D. Kahneman and colleagues.


“When you are doing  string of unpleasant chores, resist the temptation to leave the toughest and most tedious to last. Even better, try to end your labor with a chore that is at least somewhat pleasant.” p.177

This is the science behind priority setting, and success habits suggest you tackle the most important tasks early on.


“Experiences don’t just endure; they often become better with time as we embellish the best elements and downplay the worst.” p.178


“Pleasure is much less subject to adverse comparisons when it comes to experiences than possessions.” p.179


“’Hedonic treadmill’ – having to run ever faster and accumulate more and more just to stay in place hedonically. This idea explains why there has been essentially no intergenerational increase in happiness despite a massive increase in the wealth and standard of living of the average citizen in developed countries.” p.180


“Those who prioritise low taxes and private wealth creation at the expense of building up [all] sorts of public experiential resources are likely diminishing society’s collective well-being.” p.181


“When it comes to such commonly experienced dilemmas as ‘Should I or shouldn’t I?’ ‘ o I jump in or stay out?’

it is cautious inaction rather than impulsive action that we most likely come to regret.” p.182

“The broad lesson here is that we humans are active, goal-striving creatures who seem most happy when we are doing something active.” p.182


“Feeling good about mastering novelty through learning appears to be the currency with which the brain is bribed into leaving the couch and venturing outside. […] it is striving and making progress that promotes happiness; having something is a poor substitute.” p.184


“There are a lot of inspiring findings in the scientific literature on happiness. But

perhaps the most heartening is that people appear to derive more satisfaction from spending money on others than on themselves.” p.188


“Research indicates that great disparities of wealth can stunt overall well-being in a society.” p.190


“People work longer to afford what the competition requires, sacrificing time with their spouse and children. Divorce becomes more likely. Individuals may also take unwise financial risks to afford a more expensive lifestyle, increasing the likelihood of bankruptcy. And to afford a bigger house, many choose to move farther away from the expensive real estate near their jobs, resulting in punishingly long commutes and isolation from former friends, neighbours, and family members. All of these choices reduce individual and collective well-being.

The vicious cycle we are describing does not result from the poor comparing with those who are fabulously wealthy.

People tend to compare themselves to others at their own level or a bit above.

Nevertheless, these comparisons result in a cascade that carries all the way up and down the socioeconomic ladder.” p.191



Why We Don’t Just ‘Get Along’


“There are those who look at things the way they are and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?”

Robert Kennedy, p.196


“The failure to reach agreement is seen as something that reflects not the difficult realities of the conflict but the character of the other party. In short,

naïve realism presents a potent psychological barrier to negotiated agreement.” p.199


“Parties in conflict are particularly prone to overestimate the extent to which the other side’s behaviour is determined by character or personal flaws, and to underestimate the extent to which it reflects the same kinds of influences and considerations that are governing their own behaviour.” p.202


“The history of sacrifice surrounding protracted disputes creates another barrier to reaching agreement: Previous actions taken and prices paid heighten the psychic costs of any compromises required for a successful resolution.” p.205


“Once a settlement has been reached, the human penchant for rationalising past behaviour can play a constructive role.” p.206


“If the proposal of one’s own side seems unattractive when it is thought to come from the other side, how likely is it that something the other side put on the table will be deemed acceptable?” p.209


“The knowledge that the other side is being forced to offer concessions, that it understands the status quo is unsustainable, reduces the tendency to think the offer is insincere or deceptive.” p.210


“The wisest negotiators understand the value of acknowledging the needs and requests of those on the other side rather than insisting  that no new concession is being offered.” p.211


“When parties negotiate with the sense that they must and will succeed, the negotiation changes in a way that reduces reactive devaluation and facilitates agreement.” p.212

It really seems intentions play a big role to succeed in anything, isn’t it?


“Wise mediators exude personal optimism and remind the parties of their record of earlier successes in the face of great obstacles.” p.213


“It is the reduction of hatred, the building of some degree of empathy and understanding, and the creation of more trusting relationships that make it possible to get signatures on an acceptable agreement.” p.215


“A wise negotiator understands that to win over potential spoilers, and get them to recognise the wisdom of reaching agreement, they must feel that their personal future in the aftermath of the agreement will be a bearable one.” p.217


“Moving an antagonist from violent confrontation or steadfast intransigence to a willingness to explore nonviolent alternatives needn’t involve a dramatic transformation. It can involve a mere change from ’49 percent to 51 percent’”. p.218



A Tough Problem For The World 


“Logically, of course, one can believe that hardwired differences in ability play a role and still recognise that effort can boost achievement. But many people with fixed mind-sets also think that if you have real ability, you shouldn’t need to work hard to do well.

Some also think that working hard on a task, even a very difficult one, implies a lack of ability, and so they are reluctant to take on tasks in which easy success is not guaranteed.” p.228


“Ideally, wise teachers would convey the message not just through the feedback they provide when students succeed and fail, but also through the materials students are exposed to in their writing, reading, and spelling exercises when they are young and the biographies they read when they are older.” p.230


Disidentification: “People who believe they are likely to fail in a given domain may protect themselves by not investing their self-esteem or identity in that area and looking elsewhere for satisfaction and recognition.”

Self-handicapping: “Too often, students who feel anxious or lack confidence when facing a challenge remove the sting of failure by arranging a good excuse for falling short. Not studying very hard and disparaging academic pursuits are two of the most common self-handicapping tactics.” p.231

 Having suffered myself from both, I could tell that the psychological trick of recognising regret as of the main sources if unhappiness helped me overcome those self-imposed obstacles.


Ross and Gilovich point out at the importance of “psych-wise interventions” such as self-affirmation techniques, which significantly improved grades of those students, who performed the exercise (p. 236). This reminds me a lot about the power of another powerful habit: blogging.


Psych-wise interventions: Solving the “Mentor’s dilemma” with wise feedback.

“Ideally, the instructor should accompany honest assessments of the student’s work (including identification of shortcomings and suggestions for improvement) with a clear signal that the mentor is judging the work against high standards and an assurance that the mentor fully believes that the student can meet those tough standards.” p.237


“The belonging intervention did not provide any consistent benefit for non minority students, with the result that gap in achievement between the minority and non minority students was cut in half.

It appears that white students, and those from other ethnic groups who do not face stereotype threat, tend to assume they belong and can succeed.” p.240


“Hearing that a intervention is designed to remedy a problem sends a message to the students that they need, or are thought to need, extra attention, a stigma that can become self-fulfilling.” p.240



“The evidence we have reviewed also offers some broader lessons for anyone who wants to help he people they care about meet new and difficult challenges. Don’t just intervene; intervene wisely. That means offering realistic feedback rather than empty praise. It means linking academic goals to personal values and broader aspirations that have real meaning for the individual ad providing reassurance in the face of expressions of doubt. It also means accompanying that reassurance with the message that ability is not fixed. It is not a matter of having it or not having it. Abilities grow with effort. and failures are part of the growth process. Persistence and confidence that continued effort will pay off, and the willingness to seek help when required, are the keys to success.” p.244

“The wisest in the room will take those same messages to heart when they are the ones facing new and difficult challenges and coping with self-doubt.” p.244


“The wisest in the room recognise that asking for help does not reveal a person’s limitations; it demonstrates an openness to feedback and a confidence that success is obtainable.” p.244




 An Even Tougher Problem For The World


“The best way to get people to do something is to tell them their neighbours are already doing it.”

Joshua Greene, p.248


“A particular problem is that most of those who might occupy the new jobs created by greener policies and practices d not know that they personally would get them. Neither potential employees, nor the investors, entrepreneurs, or others who stand to benefit from efforts to combat climate change (including ordinary citizens) constitute an organised group, much less possess the resources to lobby Congress or mount public information campaigns.” p.250


“It is that kind of sacrifice, one that requires us to protect the interests of generations we will never know, that is called for if we are to meet the challenge of climate change.” p.252


“Sun, wind and water do not discriminate between cooperators and noncooperators.

The virtuous who reduce energy use or adopt greener technologies will not endure any less degradation of their environments than the non virtuous  who do nothing to change their ways.” p.253


“Climate change is not leaving consistent footprints. […] Conversely, those making the required changes in lifestyle will see no clear evidence of progress, especially when the ‘progress’ is not a change for the better , just a slowing of the rate of deterioration.” p.254


“In the case of climate change, denial and rationalisation are especially potent because they are engaged in collectively.” p.256

“The voices warning of the immediacy of the problem and the dangers of inaction may be greater in number and more distinguished in their credentials, but the deniers are telling people what they prefer to believe rather than what they prefer not to believe.” p.256


“Some environmentalists fear that the emphasis on mitigation would be a distraction and cold lead people to minimise the real threats posed by climate change. We think that their fears are misplaced. Public support for measures to reduce the likelihood and costs of potential consequences of climate change can be a door tactic that encourages support for other measures and discourages denial and rationalisation.” p.259

“It would be sufficient to create a social environment wherein even those who would prefer to put off changes that might be burdensome nevertheless tolerate those changes because they are seen as something that is normative – something that good citizens ‘just do’”. p.260


“Denial and rationalisation are less likely when we receive unwelcome information when we are young,

before we form political allegiances and before we develop economic interests and entrenched habits that make us feel the need to rationalise.” p.261


“If you want to be the wisest person in the room when it comes to discussions of climate change, it may be best to listen to what the youngest in the room has to say.” p.262



“When it comes to replacing vicious cycles with virtuous ones, […] gentle nudges (e.g., changes in situational pressures and constraints, well.chosen default options, highly visible signals of community norms, strategic priming of positive versus negative associations” are more likely tone fruitful than more heavy-handed tactics. These psych-wise measures, and the changes in perceived norms the can bring about, could lead to political activism by the few, and a willingness to accept reasonable changes in daily life by the many who simply (even if sometimes reluctantly) accept the burdens of good citizenship. An appreciation of naïve realism and the biases that distort our judgements and decisions can make us more tolerant of those who fail to see the light on climate change and spur us to craft change efforts that are more sophisticated and psych-wise.” p.264