Farsighted Book Summary By Steven Johnson

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Farsighted (2018) is an insightful read that explains how complex our decision-making can be.

This book helps readers understand why it's so hard to predict the outcome of decisions and offers a few helpful tools to aid in making them.

The author takes us through various scenarios and explains how seemingly small choices can have long-term consequences.

He also describes how reflecting on past decisions can help someone make better and more informed future choices.

With Farsighted, readers will be better equipped to process their thoughts, analyze the situation, and make more reasoned decisions with confidence - no matter how difficult the choice may seem.

Farsighted Book

Book Name: Farsighted (How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most)

Author(s): Steven Johnson

Rating: 4.1/5

Reading Time: 20 Minutes

Categories: Management & Leadership

Author Bio

Steven Johnson is an acclaimed author of non-fiction books, most notably Where Good Ideas Come From, How We Got to Now and Everything Bad is Good for You.

He's also a well-known tech innovator who has co-created website applications and successful TV programs such as How We Got to Now which aired on PBS and the BBC.

Besides being an experienced author of thought provoking books, Johnson is also a blogger and his work has been featured in multiple media outlets.

His latest book Farsighted, which summarizes his experience and knowledge gained throughout the years has become a must read for business leaders looking to learn more about the art of decision making.

How To Make Tough Decisions: George Washington, Ronald Reagan, And The Art Of Reasoning

George Washington

Making the right decisions is often difficult, especially when faced with so many options and an unclear future.

Fortunately, there are a variety of techniques to assist in making better decisions.

No matter your individual style, these tactics can be tailored to find what works best for you and make good decisions easier.

In Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most, readers learn that George Washington fell into faulty reasoning pitfalls, President Reagan helped bridge political divides through decisive decision-making, and mulling things over remains a classic technique.

We may have our built-in human biases and blind spots, but with the help of certain strategies we can make better decisions with greater ease.

The Complexity Of Decision-Making: How Loss Aversion Impacts Our Choices

George Washington, the leader of the Americans in the Revolutionary War of 1776, was faced with a full-spectrum decision that had multiple factors to consider.

Washington was left in a quandary as he tried to predict how the British would launch their attack on New York.

The complexity of this decision caused him to make mistakes, such as deciding to defend New York instead of retreating inland.

These mistakes were due to human blind spots when making decisions.

This phenomenon is known as loss aversion – we tend to be more inclined to resist losses than seek gains, even when it could be more beneficial in the long run if we did otherwise.

Although Washington initially made an error by trying to defend New York, his smart leadership eventually shined through and he quickly signaled retreat once his forces began losing ground.

No matter who we are – even George Washington – each of us falls prey to our own blind spots while making decisions.

We should always remember that although our decisions may have negative results now, they can still have positive impacts in the future; being aware and courageous enough review our choices can help us become better decision makers.

The Benefits Of Diversity In Decision-Making: The Greater Vancouver Water Department Case And The Research Of Samuel Sommer

It’s been proven time and time again that good decisions arise from considering diverse points of view from a diverse range of people.

For example, the Greater Vancouver area was facing population growth and needed to find an efficient way to expand their freshwater resources.

To ensure that their decision would be informed and beneficial for everyone involved, they drew on perspectives from locals near potential sources, indigenous tribes with sacred connections to the waters, environmental organizations, health and water-security specialists– all of which contributed to the ultimate GVRD-approved solution of building a pipeline to draw water from a dam on the Coquitlam River.

Studies conducted by psychologist Samuel Sommer back up this notion – in his mock trials measuring juries’ decision making processes, he found that juries made up of mixed races were always better and more accurate than white-only juries.

The results found diverse teams covered more interpretations of any evidence given, had better recall over facts pertaining to the case and deliberated longer with further investigation into possible biases.

It is speculated that these same findings can be applied not only to race but gender or political orientation as well too; however this has yet to be researched further.

Humans Are Poor At Predicting The Future, And Even Experts Can’t Seem To Get It Right

Predicting The Future

It’s no secret that humans have a terrible time when it comes to predicting the future accurately.

This was confirmed by a political scientist named Philip Tetlock 20 years ago, with his ‘forecasting tournaments’ – competitions in which people tried to understand future developments like population growth and changes in gender relations.

What Tetlock discovered from collecting 28,000 predictions was that human predictions were typically far less accurate than algorithmic baseline forecasts assuming no change or an extrapolation of existing trends.

What about experts? Surely their specialized knowledge would mean they were better at forecasting the future? Unfortunately not.

In fact, it turns out that experts are even worse at this than non-experts!

Unbelievably, Tetlock found that the experienced professionals he gathered did even poorer than participants with no expertise whatsoever.

That may sound incredulous but there is a reason why non-experts succeeded while specialists stumbled.

It turns out non-experts more often took into account various factors like technological innovation, population growth and so forth when making predictions – something specialists didn’t take into account as much as they should have.

Economists for example were either convinced economic systems would fail or succeed spectacularly wit no middle ground considered.

As such, it is clear why predicting events in the future is so difficult for both average Joe’s and professionals alike.

The Unpredictability Of The Future: Our Inability To Anticipate Events In History

It can be a bit dangerous to assume that current trends will perpetuate indefinitely.

While occurrences in the past can give us insight into what might happen next, the future is subject to many unpredictable factors converging to create something entirely new.

For example, George Orwell’s prediction of a near-future dystopia in his novel 1984 was based on past events he had witnessed or lived through.

He believed the authoritarian systems of government he’d seen already would only grow stronger, but thankfully this wasn’t the case.

Another example is that of the rise of computers.

Who could have foreseen this when they were first invented? It took advances in mathematics expanding potential programming languages and silicon circuits improving on vacuum tube technology before computers could become more common place than their bulky predecessors.

On top of that, existing technologies like radio waves had to be repurposed so data could be transmitted digitally.

It was a number of different components coming together that made modern computing possible – something which almost no one saw coming!

The Power Of Red Teams: How They Help Improve Predictions And Decision-Making

When it comes to planning and predicting the future, using red teams can be a powerful tool.

Red teams are groups of experts within an organization who act as if they were the enemy when making strategic decisions.

They can provide valuable insight into potential outcomes by taking a hard look at potential drawbacks and risks of any decision.

For example, during the mission to take out Osama Bin Laden in May 2011, the US government’s National Counterterrorism Center used a red team to help develop their plan.

The red team was able to spot potential issues that might arise, such as having an American army aircraft cross Pakistani airspace, which could cause diplomatic problems.

Consequently, in the months leading up to the attack, extra steps were taken – such as improving diplomatic ties and arranging for covert squads to use additional routes in and out of Pakistan – all thanks to the input given by the red team.

And ultimately, this led to a successful mission that resulted in Bin Laden’s demise.

Using red teams is a great way to get more accurate predictions and better planning when making crucial decisions, even in top-secretoperations like this one involving Bin Laden.

Reagan’s Revolutionary Cost-Benefit Analysis: A Surprising Tool For Protecting The Environment


Governments can use cost-benefit analysis to help them make decisions, even when it comes to environmental protection.

An example of this is how the Reagan administration implemented a cost-benefit analysis for new regulations under governmental consideration.

Under the Obama administration, cost-benefit analysis was also heavily utilized when it came to environmental protection, as evidence by experts from the Office of Energy and Climate Change and the Council on Environmental Quality calculating the social costs associated with carbon dioxide emissions.

This allowed them to monetize the long-term effects and costs of these emissions and focus more clearly on potential solutions.

The calculations concluded that the social cost was $36 per ton of carbon dioxide released, which signified an important step forward in taking environmental issues seriously when making informed governmental decisions.

Linear Value Modeling Is Essential For Complex Decision-Making, Both For Humans And Machines

Linear value modeling is an amazing tool that can help with complex decision-making.

It maps out our possible options and then weighs them based on their given value.

This is especially useful for times when making decisions isn’t so easy, like when you’re deciding whether or not to get married.

For example, you would assign a weighting from 0 to 1 depending on the importance of each factor you consider, such as finances or having children.

Then you multiply those weights by the relevant likelihood percentages calculated to determine which decision is best.

But it’s not just humans that can benefit from linear value models – machines can use them too!

Linear value models will be invaluable for self-driving cars in particular, as they need the ability to make decisions quickly based on different factors and probabilities of outcomes.

This method ensures that machines take all data into account before coming up with a solution which lowers the risk of accidents occurring – both from other vehicles and pedestrians.

So it’s clear that linear value modeling supports decision-making, whether it’s human or machine related!

The Benefits Of Slow Decision-Making: A Combination Of Math And Intuition Is The Key To Making Wise Choices

Slow Decision-Making

It’s true that mathematical decision-making can be a great tool to help you make decisions.

But when it comes down to it, mathematical decision-making has its limits and even the most mathematically minded among us need more than just numbers to make good decisions.

That’s why it’s important to think things through and ruminate on your possibilities before making any final choices.

Taking the time to weigh up different options and take all variables into consideration will get you much further than relying on the numbers alone.

Furthermore, taking a break from all the thinking is also important for making a sound decision.

This gives your brain’s default system – which works in the background – time to filter all of the information you’ve gathered and shape an informed, intuitive decision instead.

To look at it another way, let’s consider the situation concerning Osama bin Laden’s compound as an example.

In this case, there were no mathematics that could definitively tell them if bin Laden was actually there or not – so intuition had to kick in and save the day!

This goes to show that although math can be very useful in making decisions, mulling things over will still get you a long way!

Wrap Up

The Farsighted book provides an insightful look into how we can make more effective decisions.

It emphasizes the importance of taking the necessary time to think through a decision thoroughly, as well as the need for building diverse teams that can provide different perspectives and insights.

At its core, Farsighted encourages readers to slow down, weigh their options carefully, and draw on others’ insight to ensure they’re making their best choices.

This book is invaluable for anyone who’s looking to remain mindful when making important life decisions or contributing to team projects.

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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