The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli [Actionable Summary]

This is a comprehensive summary of the book The Art of Thinking Clearly by Rolf Dobelli. Covering the key ideas and proposing practical ways for achieving what’s mentioned in the text. Written by book fanatic and online librarian Ivaylo Durmonski. Supporting Members get full access.

The Book In Three Or More Sentences:

A book based on the realization that we systematically fail to think clearly. After meeting Nassim Taleb, a desire to understand heuristics and biases boomed in the author’s mind and lead to a transition. From a novelist, Rolf Dobelli became a student of social and cognitive psychology. This book is a compilation of 99 systematic cognitive errors (thinking errors) that aim to give you the upper hand in any given situation.

The Core Idea:

We need less irrationality. Nothing else to improve our daily lives. By understanding what you’re likely to do wrong, and by evading these corrupting behavior patterns, you’ll find yourself absurdly productive and move closer to where you want to be.


  • We prefer taking risks with something familiar rather than trying something new because of uncertainty.
  • Success is rarely due to what’s visible. There’s always something else happening in the background.
  • Experts don’t know everything. What they share is based on their field. Blindly following their advice can be harmful.

5 Key Lessons from The Art of Thinking Clearly:

Lesson #1: The Cause of Something is Never One Thing

Your conclusion after a distressful event usually ends up something like this: “John, the product manager, is responsible for the slow sales this season – nothing else. We should fire him!” Or, “I have a flat tire because my husband failed to check the tires this morning.”

We tend to blame one thing, or one person when something bad happens. But usually, there’s more going on.

  • Fallacy of the single cause: We imagine that our actions are enough for something to happen – to win an award or to outwit the competitors. We think that one simple thing can cause a major positive change. But that’s rarely the case. No singular event can help you triumph and win the day. Even if we don’t immediately see them, there are always a lot of factors involved in any given situation.
  • Ambiguity aversion: With everything else being equal, the scale will tilt towards what’s familiar. Even if there is risk involved, you’ll choose to take your chances rather than trying something new, something unfamiliar. The ambiguity aversion thinking error explains that we prefer taking risks with familiar things, even if the new, foreign strategy can lead to much better results.
  • Affect heuristic: We’re not in control of our actions. Our emotions are. You might think that you’re a reasonable person. That your decisions are based on carefully calculated data that’s analyzed in your brain but in most of the cases small things like, the weather outside, can hugely influence your judgment. So, instead of asking yourself, “What do I think about this?” use, “How do I feel about this?”

Lesson #2: Outside Information Influences our Decision-Making

News, friends, commercials, street signs, the words printed on our 5 dollars t-shirt from the local store, the sticky note on your cubicle.

Everything matters.

Everything we consume affects our judgment and can rearrange the thoughts inside our heads.

Sometimes you don’t need to get a complete 360-degree view of the situation. Actually, a lot of times, when something important needs to be decided, it’s best to remain on your own. With your own thoughts to make your mind.

  • News illusion: Plane crashes. A flood is destroying a city. A volcano is about to erupt. This is what news covers – blurbs of tragic events that are only negatively influencing your mood. The news illusion concept explains that we falsely believe that media is good for us. That what we see on TV and hear on the radio is helping us live a better life. In reality, the opposite happens. We start to feel worse. We start to imagine that the world is a dangerous place. Instead of embracing short snippets of information that will be irrelevant 24 hours later, bury yourself in books.
  • Salience effect: We tend to focus on the most obvious things in a situation. If a book is successful, we might say that it’s thanks to the marvelous cover. If you hear about a car crash and recently there was also a report about drunk drivers, you’ll conclude that the new event was also caused by irresponsible drinking. We focus on the sensational news rather than digging deeper to grasp the whole picture.
  • In-group out-group bias: We think differently when we’re surrounded by others and when we are on our own. When in a group, we adopt the desires of the people forming the team. When we’re alone, we favor our own judgments based on our past experiences. Be careful when you’re surrounded by others. Don’t immediately agree with the desires of the formation. Pause and consider the options on your own.

“Prejudice and aversion are biological responses to anything foreign. Identifying with a group has been a survival strategy for hundreds of thousands of years. Not any longer. Identifying with a group distorts your view of the facts.” Rolf Dobelli

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