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Everything is Obvious: Why Common Sense is Nonsense Paperback – 1 Mar 2012
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"Mr. Watts, a former sociology professor and physicist who is now a researcher for Yahoo, has written a fascinating book that ranges through psychology, economics, marketing and the science of social networks." - "The Wall Street Journal" "It's about time a sociologist wrote an amazing and accessible book for a non-specialist audience. Everything Is Obvious*: Once You Know the Answer by Duncan J. Watts is that amazing book." - "Inside Higher Ed" "In this bold thesis, renowned network scientist Duncan J. Watts exposes the complex mechanics of judgement and proposes a radical new way of thinking about human behaviour."-- Scott Wilson, The Fringe Magazine "Common sense is a kind of bespoke make-believe, and we can no more use it to scientifically explain the workings of the social world than we can use a hammer to understand mollusks." -- Nicholas Christakis, The New York Times """Everything is Obvious"" is engagingly writ
From one of the world's most influential and cited sociologists, Everything is Obvious reveals how variable is human common sense and how, as individuals, societies and businesses, we delude ourselves into thinking we can know the future.
'Fascinating... Sparkles with counter-inuitive insights' Financial TimesSee all Product description
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Top customer reviews
This book documents the traps that our pattern matching brains fall into, and how we are strongly programmed to back-fit explanations onto observations. This leads us to massively underestimate the sheer randomness of events.
Luck really does play a far more important role than we all think.
I thoroughly concur with the other 5-star reviewers in why this book should be read by anyone with an interest in how and why humans do things - whether hard science, leisure, sport or indeed anything else. A superb achievement.
Buy this book for an easy-to-read and solidly researched guide into how human beings think and make decisions. Do not, however, expect to discover much substance on how to correct or manage these cognitive flaws.
Duncan Watts has written an important book that should be read by managers, politicians and leaders of every kind. Although it won't be because these are just the sort of people who DON'T think they need this sort of help!
The key message I took away was that 'common sense' (Watts describes what this can be thought of) is useful in our everyday lives. However, despite the value we place on it, our simple, intuitive understanding of the world is simply not good enough when it comes to explaining the past, understanding the present or planning for the future. Or, in other words, we should not reply upon our simplistic mental models to explain the world.
Thus, the world is far more complex than our brains can comprehend.
Whilst this might sound obvious, Watts demonstrates time and time again how people and organisations have relied on pretty flaky thinking in a wide variety of settings. And whilst I'd read about many of these type of cognitive failings before, it was enjoyable to read Watt's take upon them.
The difficulty for us - including you and me dear reader - is that, even though we may know about these cognitive failings, we are still going to suffer from them. This is the way our brains, all of our brains, are wired. This is how we think and decide. Indeed, the cognitive failings Watts describes are a bit like those A-level Psychology optical illusions you're probably familiar with. Even though you know you're looking at an optical illusion, you still suffer from the illusion despite yourself!
Thus, as Watt's points out, we need to be very self-aware and understand how we and everyone else actually thinks. Which is why, I guess, I found Watt's book a little lacking.
I was hoping that his book would provide more of a solid framework for circumventing our intellectual weaknesses. To be fair, he does give some brief suggestions on how to test ideas in a more scientific manner (which is what his book is all about). Unfortunately for me, this latter part of the book is very light on detail and paints a picture of how to do this with very broad brush strokes.
So, in conclusion, I'm glad I read this book. I got a lot out of it and can recommend it to you.
I did think, however, that it was more of a 'How To' book than it actually is. Which should have been, I guess, obvious...
It explains well why social science is worth doing, and why it's not the same as physics. It presents some useful insights into what we can actually learn from sociology - the book is worth reading for the discussion of the 'obvious' conclusions of the American Soldier study. It's mainly liberal in both senses of the word - a wide ranging survey from a human-centred perspective that is concerned with fairness in the egalitarian sense. Some hopeful insights into homophily (why we hang out with people like ourselves). Some good stuff about how intuition and 'automatic thinking' can be misleading.
If I have a big disagreement it's with his faith in the web, and social networking, as a research tool. His closing words are: "Merton was right: Social Science still has not found its Kepler. But three hundred years after Alexander Pope argued that the proper study of mankind should lie not in the heavens but in ourselves, we have finally found our telescope." This is kind of moving, but I don't think it's right. Research on the web is interesting and can point to lots of interesting phenomena, but it's not the same as studying humanity. It's not just a matter of sample bias (not everyone uses the web, or uses it in the same way) but also ignores the very real possibility that the way we interact on the web is not at all like we act in other aspects of life.
A good book and well worth reading all the same. Made me think a lot about my own work as an industry analyst, and about the way in which the company where I work manages its people.
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