Surrounded by idiots – book review

Feel like you’re constantly surrounded by idiots? Want to learn valuable behavioural skills that can help you navigate the world of work? Surrounded by idiots is an easy to understand tool that teaches you how to understand those who cannot be understood.

This 260+ paged, non-fiction read was written by Thomas Erikson, a Swedish behavioural specialist who’s been in the field for almost 20 years. The book explains to the reader the DISC method, created by William Moulton Marston a psychologist who published in his book Emotions of Normal people in 1928. The DISC method simply categorises people into one (most often two) of behavioural groups. These groups can be nicely distinguished by colours, you have your red people, yellow, green and blue. Once you understand these colour groups and the behaviours they show, you can start to understand those who cannot be understood.

This method is still popular today, the big companies like Microsoft use it to help with group dynamics. I was taught it when I worked at an opticians to help me understand how to approach customers and work out what colour personality they had. From that I could adjust my approach to them. It’s a very useful method that I think everyone should know if they work with people.

Surrounded by idiots is an easy to understand book designed for those who have never come across the DISC method. I will mention that if you do have previous knowledge of the method parts of this book will be slow going. This is designed to start at the most basic point and build up from that. You may find the middle sags a little if you already know some of the information in there.

The author makes full use of visual means to help you along with understanding the concept, there’s a lot of diagrams that help so much and on the inside of the cover there are colour versions too what I thought was rather nice. Erikson also draws on his many years of experience and seems to have an anecdote for every situation going. So, if factual explanations aren’t your thing and diagrams don’t help either then don’t worry, you’re told enough real-life examples to help you grasp the concept.

Personally, I found the real-life stories a tad on the excessive side, there are a lot of them. At points it did come across that the author was showing off through the anecdotes. There’s nothing wrong with real-life experiences, they’re exceptionally valuable however, the book could have been half the length and still taught you everything you needed to know. It would have been nice if a few of the anecdotes that were a bit repetitive could have been swapped out with evidence of scientific study to help further solidify the authors point ( I will acknowledge that with DISC I am a predominately blue person, so I will always take scientific studies over personal experiences in non-fiction books).

I will gladly say that I thoroughly enjoyed the second to last chapter – Voices from real life. I’m not saying it’s a chapter full of anecdotes, but it is a chapter where Erikson interviews one person from each colour group and asks them what they thought of the book. This was a strong chapter to end the main part of the book on. It clearly showed you everything that you’d just learned and is a fantastic way to summarise everything.

There was one thing I found exceptionally odd with Surrounded by idiots and that was chapter 18. The book is made up of 20 chapters, so we’re talking that this chapter was right at the end of the book and chapter 18 is called A short reflection through history. Yup, you learn about the history of the core concept of the book at the end. I found this so strange and I have no clue as to why the author did this. If you’re introducing and teaching people a concept that they know nothing about (what this book is doing), then you put the history section at the start not the end. Normally you would introduce the concept, then explain the background of it (what chapter 18 does) and then go into the rest of the book teaching it. Maybe this is because I’m a non-fiction writer myself and that’s why this confused me so much and your average reader won’t know how to structure a non-fiction book, but I found it to be so strange. So, if you’re going to read this book and want to know the history to properly introduce you to the concept, I’d recommend after reading chapter 3 you then jump to chapter 18 and then go back to chapter 4.

Surrounded by idiots starts very strong but has a serious case of sagging middle syndrome. I really had to make an effort to get though the middle of the book and that left a sour taste for the remaining chapters.

If you know nothing about the four types of human behaviour, then this book with do a good job at teaching you it and I would say give it a read, it’s not a bad book at all. However, the excessive use of anecdotes, repetitive nature and odd placing of chapter 18 did put me off it quite a bit. I don’t know if this was down to my previous knowledge of the DISC method or personally liking a book with more scientific backing but either way this book just wasn’t for me.


Rating: 3 out of 5.

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