Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions that Matter the Most, by Steven Johnson


“Think about the long list of skills we teach high school students: how to factor quadratic equations; how to diagram the cell cycle; how to write a good topic sentence. Or we teach skills with a more vocational goal: computer programming, or some kind of mechanical expertise. Yet you will almost never see a course devoted to the art of and science of decision-making, despite the fact that the ability to make informed and creative decisions is a skill that applies to every aspect of our lives” (pg 13).

“When we look back at the tragectory of our lives, and of history itself, I think most of us would agree that the decisions that ultimately matter the most do no - or at least should not - rely heavily on instincts and intuition to do their calculations. They’re decisions that require slow thinking, not fast. While they are no doubt influenced by the emotional shortcuts of our gut reactions, they rely on deliberative thought, not instant responses” (pg 15).

Complex decisions . . .

force us to predict the future
often involve conflicting objectives
harbor undiscovered options
are vulnerable to failures of collective intelligence (pg 26-28)

“Our minds naturally gravitate to narrowband interpretations, compressing the full spectrum down into one dominant slice. Cognitive scientists sometimes call the anchoring. When facing a decision that involves multiple, independent variables, people have a tendency to pick one “anchor” variable and make their decision based on that element” (pg 44).

“The power of diversity is so strong that it appears to apply even when the diverse perspectives being added to the group have no relevant exprtise to the case at hand . . . Just the presence of difference appears to make a difference . . . diversity trumps ability” (pg 53).

“Storytellers suffer from confirmation bias and overconfidence just like the rest of us. Our brains naturally project outcomes that conform to the way we think the world words. To avoid those pitfalls, you need to trick your mind into entertaining alternative narratives, plot lines that might undermine your assumptions, not confirm them” (pg 118).

“Hard choices are often hard because they impact other people’s lives in meaningful ways, and so our ability to imagine that impact - to think through the emotional and material consequences from someone else’s perspective - turns out to be an essential talent” (pg 122).

Grade: B

At times I had to remind myself to keep reading, that not all information worth learning is entertaining, and that there should be at least a few nuggets available. And indeed there were. I just wish it was a bit more inspirational in the process.