Everything is Obvious Book Summary By Duncan J. Watts

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Everything is Obvious: How Common Sense Fails Us is a ground-breaking book that provides readers with powerful tools to better understand human behavior.

It dives into the common sense reasoning that we use to explain why people do what they do and reveals why it often fails us.

Through its insightful and provocative analysis, Everything Is Obvious explains why we must look beyond our basic assumptions if we are to truly understand the human experience.

By pointing out flaws in common sense thinking, the book encourages readers to reach for deeper insights into how and why people act the way they do.

Through this, readers can gain a fresh perspective on how to interpret events, assess situations and make decisions.

Everything is Obvious Book

Book Name: Everything is Obvious (How Common Sense Fails Us)

Author(s): Duncan J. Watts

Rating: 4.2/5

Reading Time: 19 Minutes

Categories: Psychology

Author Bio

Duncan J.

Watts is the author of the best-selling book, Everything is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer.

He is a renowned principal researcher at Microsoft Research and has developed a great deal of knowledge regarding network science.

In addition to his book, he was formerly a professor at Columbia University where he gained immense experience in sociology.

His work on network science has definitely made him an expert in this particular field and as such, readers can trust that his content will be full of valuable tips and insights.

The Limits Of Common Sense: Overcoming Cultural And Random Bias To Make Better Decisions

Better Decisions

Many times, using our common sense can lead us astray when making important decisions.

This is what the book “Everything Is Obvious” sheds light on – how can we identify these pitfalls and correct them?

For example, you’ll learn how a certain fashion company made money by disregarding predictions about the future of fashion – rather than falling into the trap of having tunnel vision with what currently exists in that moment.

You’ll learn how luck of the draw plays into our lives significantly more than we tend to realize.

You’ll also gain insight from learning why Austrians are so willing to donate their internal organs or understanding why the fame and glory of the Mona Lisa might have nothing to do with the Mona Lisa itself.

In short, this book offers invaluable insight on how to avoid being fooled or misled by your own preconceived notions or assumptions when trying to make important decisions or judgments about life.

Common Sense Is Unique To Each Society And Not Universally True

What we consider to be “common sense” is not fixed, and varies significantly across different societies.

To illustrate this point, research has been done on the Ultimatum Game, a decision-making game where a player proposes a division of 100$ between her and another player that can range from nothing for the other player to taking all of the money.

It was found that people in Western societies proposed a fair 50/50 split and rejected offers lower than $30, while members of the Machiguenga tribe in Peru offered just 25%, which were usually accepted.

On the other hand, tribes in Papua New Guinea made very generous offers greater than 50/50 that were still rejected at the same frequency as unfair ones.

This demonstrates that our ‘common sense’ is really just collective wisdom affected by our cultures and experiences.

The Limitations Of Common Sense: How Intuition Betrays Us When Addressing Societal Problems

When trying to tackle large-scale societal issues, relying on common sense can lead to disastrous consequences.

This is because what we assume as right is often wrong – this was unfortunately displayed in the disastrous situation created by the Robert Taylor Homes, a public housing project, whose construction was based on what their urban planners thought would raise the socioeconomic status of those who lived there – it has had the opposite effect instead.

The main reason why common sense fails us when it comes to such big problems is that we are so immersed in our own society that we tend to make assumptions about how to solve them rather than use evidence or experimentation.

The urban planners who built the Robert Taylor Homes were an example of this; they knew about poverty from what they read in newspapers or watched on television, and so assumed they could fix it through their building project – yet failed greatly.

It’s important that we resist using our own judgement and experiences when dealing with significant societal matters; if we continue taking the same approach, without working towards uncovering evidence-based solutions instead, then it’s likely that a similar mistake may reoccur.

The Power Of Psychological Influences: How We Are Biased In Making Rational Choices

Psychological Influences

The book ‘Everything is Obvious’ explores the ways in which common sense can often be misleading when attempting to explain the behavior of individuals.

While it’s easy to simply try and rationalize complex social behaviors using intuition, this isn’t always the best approach.

One example of this lies in the way people will often settle for the default choice or option that society deems to be the norm, such as opting in as an organ donor in Austria versus Germany.

Additionally, psychological factors like priming can also influence our decision-making process by providing us with specific stimuli and references points (such as reading words like “old” or “frail”).

This principle, otherwise known as anchoring, further demonstrates how we base our actions on arbitrary reference points when it comes to tasks such as donating to charity.

Ultimately, these situational factors and psychological biases interfere with our ability to make accurate assessments about reality and subsequently formrational decisions; however, despite its existence we remain largely unaware of how they shape both our own and others judgments.

As a result, relying on intuition may lead us astray when it comes to decoding people’s behavior – something that is important for all of us to recognize if we wish to properly understand the complexities of human interaction.

The Mona Lisa Is So Important Because Of Cumulative Advantage

Common sense often occults our understanding of why certain things become more successful or popular than others.

Take the Mona Lisa for example – it’s considered a masterpiece, but why? Are there not many other works of art on par with it? If asked to identify reasons for the Mona Lisa’s fame, our answers are quite likely based in circular reasoning; listing attributes of the Mona Lisa that make it famous without evidence or explanation.

To put it simply, we’re using its own fame as a justification for its fame.

What really accounts for this sense of popularity and success though is far from common sense: it is cumulative advantage.

This concept states that once something (like a book, album, etc) has started gaining in popularity and becomes more favored than its competing peers, only then will its visibility continue to increase exponentially and consequently draw in more attention or patronage.

Research suggests that this phenomenon is real: when studying songs with participants split into two groups, one “treatment” group being able to view how many times each song had been downloaded by previous raters while the other group was barred from doing so, the “treatment” group overwhelmingly chose songs they’d seen others downloading – thus proving social influence as a main factor contributing to success.

The Reality Of Six Degrees Of Separation: Networks Don’T Need Hubs To Function Smoothly

Our common sense may falsely suggest that products and ideas become popular thanks to a few key individuals or influencers acting as “hubs”.

This view, however, has been directly challenged through a number of studies showing that real-life networks don’t necessarily rely on such hubs.

The author replicating the Milgram experiment on an even larger scale proved this by finding that there was nearly as many unique chains of email circles as there were recipients.

This tells us that networks are much more “egalitarian” rather than relying on certain influencers: everyone can contribute to spreading information, eliminating the need for these so-called “hubs”.

Reality TV star Kim Kardashian has once been paid $10,000 per tweet to mention products from her sponsors.

But is this really necessary when it’s possible to have 10,000 regular people spread the message instead? It seems our common sense underestimates just how powerful networks truly are.

The Danger Of Using Common Sense To Understand History

Common Sense

When we apply common sense to historical events, we often come away believing that we’ve learnt something meaningful about how and why things unfolded the way they did.

But often this isn’t the case, and instead, our logical assumptions lead us astray.

Take the example of the surge in troop numbers in Iraq back in 2007.

Many people assume that this must have caused a decrease in violence that followed shortly after.

But would that have happened without the surge? We’ll never know as countless other variables and events were taking place before and during this time as well – so it’s not possible to accurately determine which factor triggered what results.

That’s not all; by using common sense when analyzing historical events, we are trying to construct a narrative out of what appears to be a set of random occurrences.

For example, skirmishes between French and English ships in 1337 have been superseded by what we now call the Hundred Years War – yet those sailors or soldiers at that point had no idea how their actions would shape future generations.

So even though these simple stories might be exciting to read about or hear, they are far from an accurate representation of history itself.

Why We Can’T Always Predict The Future: The Complexities Of Interdependent Factors And Unpredictable Outcomes

Though it may seem that common sense should be our go-to for making predictions about the future, it often can lead us astray.

We tend to assume there is only one possible path or future that can play out, and by studying evidence, we can accurately guess which path that will be.

Unfortunately, this isn’t true: the systems in our society are much more complex than this due to their many interdependent and interacting factors.

A small change in one area of life could cause bigger changes down the road.

We also want to focus on the possible futures that actually matter; however, without knowing what’s going to happen first, we don’t know the consequences and thus can’t predict what will be important before it happens.

This complete failure of common sense when attempting to make predictions has seriously dangerous outcomes — we were unable to anticipate 9/11 based on what at the time seemed impossible terrorism tactics used by hijackers with only box cutters.

The Wisdom Of Crowds: How Predictive Markets Can Help Us Make More Accurate Predictions

Although it’s not always possible to accurately predict the future with absolute certainty, there are certain techniques that can be used to make predictions with a degree of caution.

One such method is using prediction markets: here, multiple people will put bets on what is likely to happen, and their predictions are then averaged out – this is often more accurate than an expert making a single prediction.

Crowd wisdom has also been demonstrated to be successful in predicting outcomes of events such as elections or sports matches.

However, when it comes to making decisions regarding large strategic developments this method falls short, as these types of event don’t take place frequently enough for estimations through crowd wisdom or statistical models to be reliable.

Therefore, it is important to employ flexible strategies that are optimised for predicted scenarios while being prepared for any unexpected changes that may occur.

An example of this gone wrong occurred in 1980 when a Houston drilling company was unprepared for a decrease in oil yields due to their strategies not account for it- leading them into disastrous consequences.

The Measure-And-React Strategy: Making Successful Decisions With Analytical And Local Knowledge

Successful Decisions

Rather than spending time and energy trying to guess what people want, we should be looking at the present and reacting to it.

This is a strategy that Zara employs successfully with their “measure-and-react” plan.

Firstly, they notice what people are already wearing in order to be ‘on trend.’ They then produce a small batch of new styles which are tested to measure which ones work – and don’t work – for consumers.

The styles that don’t fly off the shelves immediately (or at all) are quickly abandoned or replaced, while those that succeed are scaled up production of.

The same idea can be applied elsewhere; such as utilizing the activity on the internet to estimate the number of cases of influenza, or even just gathering local knowledge from your closest workers when optimizing an assembly line!

In major strategic policy or business decisions however, this measure-and-react strategy may not always be possible – so we must look beyond our common sense and use other approaches.

Such as collecting information from those within our surroundings first hand – they will have invaluable insights into any problems they’ve encountered before, along with tried and tested solutions to offer up a scientific backbone!

Ultimately, rather than trying to make predictions about the future, if we improve our understanding of what is going on around us in the present then we will always know how best to react and thus be better prepared for any changes ahead.

Luck Matters: Understanding The Role Of Randomness In Our Lives And Seeking Justice

Common sense often ignores the fact that luck plays a significant role in our lives, leading us to make unfair judgements.

We can see this in how different people are treated for similar actions.

For example, had a sleepy driver not run over a child, their punishment would have been much less severe even though their intentions were the same – to drive home safely.

What’s more, it has been proven by numerous studies that success (or lack thereof) often comes down to random chance or ‘lucky breaks’ rather than talent and hard work alone.

Of course this doesn’t necessarily mean that skill and/or diligence don’t matter at all either – they do – but it goes to show just how significant luck is in terms of where one ends up in life.

The implications of this are far-reaching; realizing that luck plays such an important part in determining our destiny suggests that society ought to be designed with fairness and justice in mind.

Ideas like John Rawls’ principle of minimizing luck’s effects on inequality would create a fairer world .

It may seem idealistic now, but never discount the power of knowledge in making great change.

Moving From Common Sense To Uncommon Sense: Using Data To Further Our Understanding Of Human Behavior

Human Behavior

It seems like common sense is the go-to for trying to solve tough problems, but unbeknownst to us, our common sense understanding can be woefully inadequate when it comes to complex human behavior.

To move forward in understanding human behavior, it is important that we cultivate an “uncommon sense” rooted in scientific methods and data.

Thanks to the volumes of data available from modern sources such as social media networks and search engine queries, we are now able to observe and measure the behavior of large groups– sometimes even entire societies– in near real-time.

This means that extremely complex problems can now be examined with the scientific method; something which was difficult before due to lack of data.

An example of this is found in the music industry: people influence one another’s choices in music but how this translates into hit songs in a much larger market was not easily discernible until recent increases in accessible data allowed us to approach this problem with applied science instead of just relying on our common sense and guesswork.

Wrap Up

Everything is Obvious: How Common Sense Fails Us is a must-read book for anyone looking to gain insight into the pitfalls of common sense and learn better strategies for making decisions that will have an effect on many people.

The key message in this book is that common sense isn’t enough when dealing with complex problems where many actors and perspectives are involved.

To get the best solution, you need to employ “local knowledge”—perspectives from those closest to the problem.

This will lead to novel solutions you had never even considered.

By taking this actionable advice into consideration, you can make smarter decisions that have a lasting impact on our world, whether it’s personal choices or public policy.

In short, Everything Is Obvious provides its readers with strategies to improve how they plan for the future and understand their present circumstances.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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