These are the books I’ve been enjoying lately: Stumbling on Happiness; Fooled by Randomness; Freakonomics. Now I’ve picked up The Halo Effect, which may be the best of the lot. These are all books which show the staggering number of ways in which we delude ourselves about the world we live in.
Phil Rosenzweig, the Halo author, kicks off one chapter with this George Bernard Shaw line, which resonates strongly with me:
The difference between a lady and a flowergirl is not how she behaves, but how she is treated.
The chapter shows how the appearance of success leads us to a whole series of unjustified assessements about the causes of it and makes a larger point about what I’d call the Cult of Leadership. If you happen to be at the head of a successful company, you acquire a halo. So you get rated for having all sorts of great qualities. Whether you have them or not seems fairly immaterial. Rosenzweig has some compelling examples of how leaders are described as Dr Jekyll duing upswings and Mr Hyde when performance is down. They haven’t really changed character, it’s basically a delusion in the minds of the observer.
Rob May gives more detail.