How To Get The Big Decisions Right
Sep 25, 2018 · 4 min read
Author Steven Johnson presenting his new book, Farsighted: How we make the Decisions That Matter the Most, recorded live at Betaworks Studios in New York City.
For this episode of our podcast, Builders, we are excited to bring you the best selling author Steven Johnson. Farsighted is his eleventh — yes eleventh — book and somewhat different from many of his other books and a lot of the other books around decision making.
Steven wrote the best selling ‘Where Do Good Ideas Come From’ and along with other books like ‘Blink’ from Malcolm Gladwell has helped us understand short term decision making. The whole idea of gut instinct — which is just your brand working really really quickly, cancelling out stuff you don’t like, moving forward with things you do like.
There is so much literature and thinking around short term attention span especially as we walk around with our faces stuck in our phones. But actually there is not a great deal written about how we make the big decisions.
In this podcast Steven explains the origins of the book, one part being his decision to move his family from New York to Marin County, the other being a study where a University of Pennsylvania Professor, Philip Tetlock, tracked expert decision makers over five years to see if their predictions stacked up. Guess what….
“They were worse than the proverbial dart throwing chimp. Flipping a coin would have been a better way of predicting the future.”
You kind of knew that, but it’s always good when a professor uses science to back it up.
He talks about the idea of Premortems, whereby faced with a big decision you play out a scenario where it is a disaster and track back to look at the factors that made it screw up. This leads to much more creative thinking around decision making. I also imagine it’s a lot more fun to think up ways of things going pear-shaped.
Steven also talks about the importance of stories when thinking about complex decisions. Not just in the traditional sense, for example, novelists are adept at this. They have to map out long term plot lines for characters, how they interact, how they end up. So it’s easy to see how stories are critical there but how about things like figuring out the water supply for a huge city? Creating stories around the different elements of water supply can help us break down a complex decision into manageable strands.
Another interesting point is that it’s frequently impossible to model any of these big decisions. You can’t model moving your family across the world. And you can’t model getting married, although it seems Charles Dawrin did attempt this somewhat:
“Right in the middle of discovering natural selection in 1838, there’s a page in his notebook where he leaves ruminating about finches and it says, ‘Not Marry and Marry’.”
Listen to this fascinating podcast for lots more stories like this. We are grateful to our fellow Betaworks Studio members, Heleo, who hosted this talk as part of their Next Big Idea Club. Steven was interviewed by Rufus Griscombe, CEO of Heleo.
Builders podcast is a unique collection of live talks given at betaworks studios. Through our ten years of building and investing in products we have created a community of diverse thinkers and builders. Only we are able to gather this authentic community in one space to go deep on all aspects of the startup ecosystem and beyond.
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