I just finished reading Duncan Watts’ book Everything is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer. I highly recommend it – it has changed the way I think about many things. From the Amazon book description:
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.
Watts succinctly and clearly explains why expecting social sciences to be like the physical sciences is inappropriate, why problems at scale are typically so very different from superficially similar problems at the micro-level (for instance, why trying to apply household economics and credit card management strategies to the federal budget is a terrible idea), and why it is so very, very hard to learn from history or past circumstances. There’s a lot of other good material and thought-provoking results, including some useful discussion of different types of complexity and what’s knowable about certain kinds of problems (and potential solutions). One of the blurbs:
“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.”
And it’s true. It’s one of those rare books that has made me view almost everything I read in the policy space (which is a lot of what I read)–analysis, news, prediction, planning, all of it–in a different light. I learned something from almost every chapter and my brain has been tickled and is (hopefully) rewiring itself a bit.
It was recommended to me by one of my best and most brilliant sources. I pass along the recommendation wholeheartedly. Read it. You’ll think different.