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Farsighted

Written by: Steven Johnson
Length: 6 hrs and 22 mins
4 out of 5 stars (8 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

A groundbreaking book about making once-in-a-lifetime decisions, from the best-selling author of How We Got to Now and Where Good Ideas Come From 

Plenty of books offer useful advice on how to get better at making quick-thinking, intuitive choices. But what about more consequential decisions, the ones that affect our lives for years or centuries to come? Our most powerful stories revolve around these kinds of decisions: where to live, whom to marry, what to believe, whether to start a company, how to end a war.

Full of the beautifully crafted storytelling and novel insights that Steven Johnson's fans know to expect, Farsighted draws lessons from cognitive science, social psychology, military strategy, environmental planning, and great works of literature. Everyone thinks we are living in an age of short attention spans, but we've actually learned a lot about making long-term decisions over the past few decades. Johnson makes a compelling case for a smarter and more deliberative decision-making approach. He argues that we choose better when we break out of the myopia of single-scale thinking and develop methods for considering all the factors involved.

There's no one-size-fits-all model for the important decisions that can alter the course of a life, an organization, or a civilization. But Farsighted explains how we can approach these choices more effectively and how we can appreciate the subtle intelligence of choices that shaped our broader social history.

©2018 Steven Johnson (P)2018 Penguin Audio

What the critics say

“Riveting.... As a deep thinker and gifted storyteller, Johnson is the right author to tackle the topic. He’s at his best when analyzing impossibly complex decisions.... One of Johnson’s thought-provoking points is that [people who excel at long-term thinking] read novels, which are ideal exercises in mental time travel and empathy. I think he’s right.” (The New York Times Book Review)

“Johnson is explicitly focused on real-life decisions that (ideally) involve serious deliberation.... [He]reminds us that, fundamentally, choices concern competing narratives, and we’re likely to make better choices if we have richer stories, with more fleshed-out characters, a more nuanced understanding of motives, and a deeper appreciation of how decisions are likely to reverberate and resound.” (The Wall Street Journal

“Johnson is well-placed to dig into these dilemmas of decision-making, as he gracefully serves up examples ranging from 17th-century urban planning to contemporary artificial intelligence.” (Financial Times

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Hit "Add to Cart" - can be your best decision ever

You have thousands of decisions still to be made in your lifetime. Some small, some large. The scariest ones are the big ones. Their implications are vast, and cascade over into every aspect of your life.

And yet, you haven’t been taught how to make big decisions well. Not in a systematic fashion. Not in school, not at work, not at home. You’re sometimes told to “just go with your gut.” In other words, using system 1 (from Daniel Kahnemann’s “Thinking Fast and Slow”) for decisions that really should be refined with a system 2 lens – a slower, methodical thinking process.

If you want to learn a framework that can help you and your team (whether it’s your family, friends, or your squad at work) grapple with long-term decision making that incorporates many variables and possibilities, this book is INCREDIBLY useful. It provides you with a 3-step process, along with various tips & tricks at each step. The examples and stories Johnson draws his inspiration from are varied and vivid: from the decision-making process used to capture Osama Bin Laden, to the author’s personal process to decide whether to move to California, and the system Darwin used to decide to get married.

Very few authors are able to distill key insights from different disciplines and tie them together with supporting stories coherently in a narrative that is informative, entertaining, and persuasive. After listening to Steven Johnson’s “Wonderland” podcast, I knew that he was one of the best in the world at doing it. And if you decide to read Farsighted and improve your ability to make decisions by adopting “full-spectrum thinking”, you’ll see what I mean.

Below is my high-level preview of what you can expect to learn in this book.

The primary framework outlined by Johnson consists of 3 steps: Map, Predict, Decide.

Map:

This is when you’re trying to get an idea of what the territory looks like by building a metaphorical map of the decision. This includes writing down the variables that you’re facing, the people that can help you, what the end goal is, and the possible outcomes. A major tool you have your disposal in this step of the process is divergence. In other words, you need to build a (formal or informal) team to help you make your decision and get various opinions. Johnson cites plenty of evidence to show that intellectually diverse teams make better decisions than homogenous ones.

It’s also important at this stage to consider that the “menu” of choices you think you have, might not be complete. Take long walks and talk to your squad about hidden choices that you hadn’t considered.

Predict:

This is when you look at the (updated) menu of choices you have at your disposal, and attempt to predict where each one may lead you. A powerful mental modeling exercise Johnson shares here is the “premortem”, which you’re likely familiar with if you’ve read Kahnemann already. The idea is to imagine that your choice(s) will lead to a disaster. Think about what those possible disasters are, and how your decisions may lead you there. That way, you can cover some of your blind spots and prepare. A useful way to do this is to build a “red team”, where you find people to oppose you at every step of the way and tell you the downsides of every choice you’re considering – so that you can see the full spectrum of possibilities involved in the possible paths your decision can take you.

Another major mental model Johnson dives into here is the idea of building simulations, in whatever way you can. Simulate your decisions before actually committing to any of them. This can be done vicariously, and can even be fictional – which is the value of novels. By seeing how others make decisions and grapple with the complexity of life, we become more prepared to make our own. A more grounded example of a simulation would be the following: if you’re interested in a certain career path, go job shadow your role model for a day. Then you can consider if it’s something that you see yourself doing in the future.

Decide:

Finally, you have to decide. This is when you look at the map you’ve built, the predictions, where sh** might hit the fan along the way, and commit to a course of action. At this point, your gut-thinking is way better than it was before the whole process, because it’s taking a lot more information into account, and has simulated many possibilities. It’s not a myopic, system 1 decision anymore because you’ve supplemented it with a deliberate thinking process. He also shares a few techniques that can help here like value-modeling and cost-benefit analysis. It’s important to note that if a decision is time-limited, you have to get comfortable making decisions with somewhat incomplete information and roll with the punches.

Final thoughts:

As you mature, advance in your career, and build your families, the stakes get bigger and bigger when it comes to the consequences of the decisions you make. And as society evolves, and technology advances, the same applies at a macro scale…with stakes rising exponentially. In order to maximize the probability of favorable outcomes, we need to learn to think more systematically.

If learning The Art & Science of Farsighted Decision-Making is something that appeals to you, hit “Add to Cart.” It could be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make – one that makes all of your subsequent decisions easier and better.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • William Coppage
  • 2018-10-08

Enjoyed it - Not what I was expecting

I did enjoy this book. It wasn't what I thought. I thought it was going to be more "leadership" style narrative. i did really enjoy the use of the military references to show a point.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Jim Haynes
  • 2018-09-15

Best of Johnson

I wish I had read this book years ago. Steven stimulates the brain. Personal stories are a welcome extra.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • Robert Z
  • 2018-09-30

Powerful Book for Business and Personal Decisions

This was an excellent book on how to make decisions. I’m taking away parts to influence my business life, others to influence my personal life and another part to help an 8yr old get ready faster in the morning.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Bonny
  • 2018-12-05

Decisions are hard.

Farsighted is an interesting book, but it seems to mainly illustrate just how very complex decision-making can be. These are not the single-variable, binary, yes or no type of decisions, but instead the complex and complicated type where changing types of variables are considered. Many of these decisions that matter the most are group or societal ones; I had hoped for more focus on individual decisions.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 2019-09-28

first half of the book is great

strong start, boring finish. the book teaches you about formal structures around long term decisions.

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  • RealMan24/7
  • 2019-08-06

Great start with a lackluster finish

awesome capture of the science and history of decisions. The last few chapters get political and pretty far out leading to Steve not following his own earlier wisdom of considering alternatives and uncertainty of current doomsday predictions.

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  • Timo
  • 2019-02-06

The Complexity of Making A Decision

The somewhat dry yet informative narrative in the first half of the book dealing with methodology and examples kindly reconciles in the later half with more broad views while continuing on already considered examples. It is scholarly and entertaining to the curious mind.

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 2019-01-21

extremely interesting and thought provoking

the discussion around decision making at a variety of levels makes for an excellent follow on to Daniel K's book

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  • Yony morales
  • 2018-11-22

Farsightedness!

Wow, I've never thought of decision making as this book explains. Its profound and thorough explanation of being able to think farsighted gives a whole new perspective on the repercussions of your decisions. Great Book overall!

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  • Samer Chidiac
  • 2018-10-20

Very Good

A very good resource, the Author covered a lot of concepts about how Futurists think and what it takes for us to build decisions on the future.