Why is the Mona Lisa the most famous painting in the world? Why did Facebook succeed when other social-networking sites failed? Did the surge in Iraq really lead to less violence? How much can CEO’s impact the performance of their companies? And does higher pay incentivize people to work hard?
If you think the answers to these questions are a matter of common sense, think again. As sociologist and network science pioneer Duncan Watts explains in this provocative book, the explanations that we give for the outcomes that we observe in life - explanation that seem obvious once we know the answer - are less useful than they seem.
Drawing on the latest scientific research, along with a wealth of historical and contemporary examples, Watts shows how common sense reasoning and history conspire to mislead us into believing that we understand more about the world of human behavior than we do; and in turn, why attempts to predict, manage, or manipulate social and economic systems so often go awry.
It seems obvious, for example, that people respond to incentives; yet policy makers and managers alike frequently fail to anticipate how people will respond to the incentives they create. Social trends often seem to have been driven by certain influential people; yet marketers have been unable to identify these “influencers” in advance. And although successful products or companies always seem in retrospect to have succeeded because of their unique qualities, predicting the qualities of the next hit product or hot company is notoriously difficult, even for experienced professionals.
Only by understanding how and when common sense fails, Watts argues, can we improve how we plan for the future, as well as understand the present - an argument that has important implications in politics, business, and marketing, as well as in science and everyday life.
©2011 Duncan J. Watts (P)2011 Random House Audio
"Every once in a while, a book comes along that forces us to re-examine what we know and how we know it. This is one of those books. And while it is not always pleasurable to realize the many ways in which we are wrong, it is useful to figure out the cases where our intuitions fail us." (Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, and New York Times best-selling author of Predictably Irrational)
“A deep and insightful book that is a joy to read. There are new ideas on every page, and none of them is obvious!” (Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and author of Stumbling on Happiness)
"A brilliant account of why, for every hard question, there’s a common sense answer that’s simple, seductive, and spectacularly wrong. If you are suspicious of pop sociology, rogue economics, and didactic history - or, more importantly, if you aren’t! - Everything is Obvious is necessary reading. It will literally change the way you think." (Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology. New York University)
As a fan of Freakonomics, Predictably Irrational and Thinking Fast and Slow (among many others of the cognitive ilk) at first I thought this title might not have much new information for me. Indeed, most of the topics covered are familiar ground for me. Still, the social tack taken here really cements how relying solely on common sense can get you into trouble. Clear, articulate yet never dull. Great stuff.
Love the fact that Mr. Watts read this himself, gives it so much more texture than most. And more importantly, his insights and ideas are brilliant, fun to listen to and think about.
Watts lays out a solid survey about why, in many cases, the reasons we think cause certain things to happen, just may not be the case. Solid narration.
It's a pity that although it has some interesting thoughts, even though some are rehashed from others, there is always a hidden job interview for a central planner in books like this:"Hire me, I have found an argument to put a sauce of scientific respectability over your grab of raw power over people."
After heralding the power of accumulated wisdom of freely trading individuals, he names cap and trade and all kind of government coerced programs of taxation as examples of free markets. He also blames the financial crisis on the foolishness of crowds, ignoring that a small elite is setting interest rates, inflating money supply and directing the masses with laws as central planners, being lavishly campaign donated by Freddy and Fanny just before these mortgage giants needed a bailout.
In the same line he ponders about how the hell to devise a reward scheme that is fair in the banking world, with all kinds of regulations, while ignoring the most obvious one:let them fail and don't throw in the bailout slaves at the point of a gun. But getting rid of power is not an argument that falls good in a job applications with the coercive elite, so more power to patch the problems of previous power is the rule.
I thought this was going to be a book about how things work. It is, instead, his opinion and commentary on society. The title could not be more misleading. I want my money back.
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