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Publisher's Summary

From one of the world’s leading data scientists, a landmark tour of the new science of idea flow, offering revolutionary insights into the mysteries of collective intelligence and social influence.

If the Big Data revolution has a presiding genius, it is MIT’s Alex “Sandy” Pentland. Over years of groundbreaking experiments, he has distilled remarkable discoveries significant enough to become the bedrock of a whole new scientific field: social physics.

Humans have more in common with bees than we like to admit: We’re social creatures first and foremost. Our most important habits of action - and most basic notions of common sense - are wired into us through our coordination in social groups. Social physics is about idea flow, the way human social networks spread ideas and transform those ideas into behaviors.

Thanks to the millions of digital bread crumbs people leave behind via smartphones, GPS devices, and the Internet, the amount of new information we have about human activity is truly profound. Until now, sociologists have depended on limited data sets and surveys that tell us how people say they think and behave, rather than what they actually do. As a result, we’ve been stuck with the same stale social structures - classes, markets - and a focus on individual actors, data snapshots, and steady states. Pentland shows that, in fact, humans respond much more powerfully to social incentives that involve rewarding others and strengthening the ties that bind than incentives that involve only their own economic self-interest.

Pentland and his teams have found that they can study patterns of information exchange in a social network without any knowledge of the actual content of the information and predict with stunning accuracy how productive and effective that network is, whether it’s a business or an entire city. We can maximize a group’s collective intelligence to improve performance and use social incentives to create new organizations and guide them through disruptive change in a way that maximizes the good. At every level of interaction, from small groups to large cities, social networks can be tuned to increase exploration and engagement, thus vastly improving idea flow.

Social Physics will change the way we think about how we learn and how our social groups work - and can be made to work better, at every level of society. Pentland leads listeners to the edge of the most important revolution in the study of social behavior in a generation, an entirely new way to look at life itself.

©2014 Alex Pentland (P)2014 Penguin Audio

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  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Rick
  • Reno, NV
  • 02-14-14

Excellent intro, but overly ambitious conclusions

Would you consider the audio edition of Social Physics to be better than the print version?

The book was a good introduction to the topic and an enjoyable listen. There are some charts and diagrams you didn't get to see.

How would you have changed the story to make it more enjoyable?

Focused more on the actual research rather then trying to make grand conclusions that they suggest a new "science"

Any additional comments?

Great introduction if you're not familiar with the latest in Behavioral Economics. However, I didn't buy the conclusion that these fascinating studies lead to a new "science" called "Social Physics." The experiments and use of modern technology is really interesting. But the findings are not new, these concepts have been hypothesized for some time (the experiments do a great job of proving them however).

The book really lost me when the author tries to suggest his finding lead toward broader points. But I still enjoyed the book, worth a listen as this area is only going to grow in the future.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Pam
  • United States
  • 06-03-15

Valuable ideas, technical presentation

I'm a science writer, so I see great value in researchers explaining science to the public. I don't believe this book is meant for the general public, however, but rather people with some background in science or business who want to learn more about behavioral economics.

The main idea is this: people make better decisions when they consider a variety of points of view. The same with innovation—successful people come up with new ideas by occasionally stepping outside the norm and looking at things in unusual ways. Pentland finds examples where this is true in investing, politics, and business, among others.

He suggests that if you find yourself in a room at a party where you agree with every word that everybody says, you should probably go to a different room—that is, if you want to catch the good ideas he mentions in the subtitle.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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The most self-promoting book I've read.

This is all I take from this book. Some great ideas, but the author just ignores anyone else's contribution to any filed and talks mostly about how he and his students created start-ups to explore those ideas. Don't get me wrong, there's great content there, but I read a conscious effort to downplay the whole field in order to make the author's contributions sound like the only good ideas ever developed.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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A Social Science Masterpiece!

This book provides advanced scientific evidence for nearly every book I've read on creating and sustaining organizational growth and health.

Over the last three decades I was charged with the responsibility for creating fast and sustainable organizational growth for startup nonprofits and commercial enterprises which, accumulatively, gathered connected tribes numbering in the millions of people and produced over $7 billion in revenue.

Unfortunately, I had to learn many of this book's principles the hard way. I only wish I had this book as a guide when I started my career. It will be at the top of my recommended reading for any executives in my employ or CEOs whom I coach.

Truly a masterpiece!

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Wow! Makes you believe you can change the world!!!

I manage the analytics for a multibillion dollar firm, yet I was blown away by this book... The concepts postulated really allow you to dream about social transformation at a whole other scale. I also think you can apply learnings to any type of company. I am a fan of the creative process, and this book really figures out a formula and a process to enhance and fine tune creativity and idea flow. I can’t wait to analyze all the data mentioned in the different cases, especially the one from the Ivory Coast, which is the data for development project that is intended to transform the entire country. Now that’s transformation on a mass scale. Makes you want to go study a PhD at MIT Media Lab...

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Nothing that new for academics

Not many original ideas. Author talks about diversity but insists on using male forms only...

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  • Mayra
  • AURORA, IL, United States
  • 09-26-16

Great read

This was just a topic of interest to me. I wanted to understand why people fall into specific groups and one track thinking. This book summed it up pretty well and presented some ideas for better society I do hope come to light one day.

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  • Al
  • San Francisco, CA
  • 02-23-14

Very Theoretical and Dry Book

This is a very dry and theoretiucal book for the most part. Sounds most like a research paper than an entertaining book from which one can gather ideas easily.

1 of 3 people found this review helpful