My wife has an uncanny ability to buy books for me that I might not have chosen for myself. I usually end up reading them front to back, enjoy the experience and get a lot of out of them. I gave up reading fiction a long time ago after reading the world’s worst novel, “The Shipping News,” but that’s another story. I’m not easy to shop for, but I can think of three books she bought for me where she knocked it out of the park.
One was called, “The Drunkard’s Walk,” which was written by a Cal Tech statistics professor. The subtitle was “how randomness rules our lives,” and I was amazed that the book taught me more about the overarching principles of how statistics work than an entire semester of a statistics class in grad school.
Same goes for “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavorial Economics,” which was written by Richard H. Thaler, who made a cameo appearance in the movie “The Big Short,” thanks to his expertise in the subject. He also won a little thing called the Nobel Prize. I wrote about how I could apply some of the lessons I learned in that book to racing in another column back in 2019.
The one I’m reading now is called, “Super Thinking: The Big Book of Mental Models.” The book is essentially an extended study of models of critical thinking, how it applies to everything from life in general, to philosophy, politics, parenting and business and, as you might imagine, racing.
In the book, the authors, Gabriel Weinberg, the CEO and founder of DuckDuckGo, and Lauren McCann, a statistician and researcher with a Ph.D. from MIT, pointed out the different cognitive considerations and processes between reversible and irreversible decisions.
For obvious reasons, irreversible decisions must be made methodically and carefully, with great deliberation. It’s like a door that locks when you close it behind you. Reversible decisions can be made more fluidly and with less consternation because they can be undone. The door closes behind you, but it doesn’t lock.
The parallel to racing and high-performance driving occurred to me when I was visiting the Great Lakes Region event at the Pittsburgh International Race Complex and had joined a group of people on a track walk with Ross Bentley, an accomplished author — and racing driver — in his own right. If you are a NASA member and you’re reading this, but you haven’t read Bentley’s book, “Speed Secrets: Professional Race Driving Techniques,” stop right now, go buy it on Amazon and come back to this column. When you come back, we’ll proceed.
Before we got out onto the track walk itself, I chatted Bentley up about what he looks for during a track walk, and he made one point that stood out, particularly in light of the book I had been reading on the flight to Pittsburgh.
Ross said he looks for corners where he can experiment a bit without fear of great consequences. Those are the corners where he looks to find a few tenths. Those are the corners where he can drop two wheels without the potential for hitting a tire wall or anything else for that matter. Those corners are what “Super Thinking” authors Weinberg and McCann would consider reversible decisions. The turns that expose a driver to great consequence, well, those could be considered irreversible decisions. The parallel was unmistakable.
Having a door lock behind you is one thing. Writing off an entire car when all you wanted to do was find a few more mph in a turn is quite another. The lesson here is as clear in the book as it was from Bentley’s comments. When you’re looking to find a few more tenths, find them in the turns where your decisions are reversible. And continue to seek out good books.