Anecdotal Fallacy 

Social science seems to be the field I opt to pick from bookshelves in recent years, especially on behavioral economics and cognitive psychology. Be it from Dan Ariely, Daniel Pink, Malcolm Gladwell, I read all those popular books that everyone else is also reading (Yep, a clichéd millennial. Yep, that’s me). 

Ever since I started working and got exposed to much more variety of people, I find the study of human relationships and minds extremely fascinating, simply because it is so complex. Although with enough research you can draw patterns and some conclusions from human behaviors, there is never a one-size-fits-all answer for a single question.

You can’t plug it all into equation – Every time I do X, I will get Y result. 

Which, after I’ve read a few books, sometimes I start to question how much of it is true. For some books, it’s a real struggle to be convinced while reading it. 

Grit: The power of passion and perseverance is one of them. Started off, I got the feeling this could be a great book. The author’s theory on Growing grit from the inside out speaks to me and it successfully convinces me to a certain degree, backed up by research paper and surveys. 

Although it may sound obvious, I do like her theory of hierarchy of goals as it helps put things in structure and sorts out priorities in life in order. She proposes that each of us should have the top-level goal, with a few mid-level, and more low-level goals underneath. The top-level goal should act as your compass, the same ultimate concern. You may call it your life philosophy. 

There are many other factors contributed to growing grit inside out. I personally like the idea of “foster your passion” not “find your passion” This book teaches you not only to fall in love with what you do, but also stay in love with it, which, in my opinion, a much tougher task to achieve. 

Unfortunately, the second half of the book, Growing grit from the outside in, lost my interest rather quickly, to the point that I almost could not force myself to read further! 

Why? 

Because it is full of anecdotal evidences. A lot of “He said, she said” 

The author starts telling exceptional stories of people in different fields, even the story of herself as a mean to convince readers about her theories! I am really not sure what to make of, for Mr.A and Ms.B sucesss stories, and how much (if at all) these can be a representative of the whole population. I might as well can write and give an example of a story from my mother’s friend! 

To me, anecdotal evidence is a major flaw of social science books. However, some of really good books I like, for example, Quiet by Susan Cain, are able to convince me and I feel like the book is written with solid research background and sound evidence, as much as the “soft” science possibly allows it to be. 

I will have to violate The rule of three (possibly upset my Faculty of Arts professor in the process) and offer only two little suggestion of how to convince readers in my humble opinion. Basically because I can’t think of the third suggestion! (Damnit). 

-Summarize key message at the end of each chapter. Make your findings look concrete. I personally love this style as it helps digest the whole book much easier. 

-Reduce anecdotal evidences to the minimum. A few stories could be used to catch readers’ attention to engage with the book emotionally and makes it less academic. But it gets boring very quickly when the author starts each chapter with some extraordinary people’s stories. We give and receive anecdotal evidences in every day lives as it’s such a common fallacy in most of our daily conversations. So, I expect something different when I read. 

I’m not sure if this is the major reason I find a few of these human behavior study books start to sound the same. It could get repetitive over times. Feel free to recommend if you know any good, interesting books. No more anecdotal fallacy, please! 

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