Everything Is Obvious Once You Know The Answer by Duncan J. Watts

Rate:  *****

Read: Cover to Cover

Category: Big Idea

Wow.  Where to start?    Watts takes the very foundation of everything we believe to be true – successes and failures in business, the way we see the world, the decisions we make, the experts we believe in, our very comfortable notion that our common sense will save us and takes it apart step by step.  A fabulous, but personally disturbing drubbing of all (my) reality.  Some of the best business insights come not from the business community, but from a distant perspective of how human beings perceive, act and react in societies.  It’s when you can understand (a bit – probably enough to be dangerous) about the human brain, why we do certain things, why we react rather than how we react, and how we’re hardwired to learn specifics when we should be focused on generalities, do we get more tools in our business toolbox.  Robin Dunbar, Mark Granovetter, David Coleman, Nassim Taleb all offer insights that can be used in business although they are not business writers.  Duncan Watts, a sociologist and network science pioneer, fits in this category.  He draws on scientific research, historical and contemporary examples to show us that the almighty holy grail of fallback positions – common sense, historical success and predictions – are such faulty notions, that I was both stunned and delighted at the same time.  Why shouldn’t I look to great companies for my business model?  Why shouldn’t I believe Malcolm Gladwell when he says certain people are “influencers” and that social epidemics are “driven by the efforts of a handful of exceptional people?”  Why,” measure and react” may be a more interesting strategy than the ever-present “predict and control”.  His arguments tackle a wide range of common sense notions we have come to rely on and he leaves us with more questions than answers.   But that’s his whole premise – how common sense reasoning and historical accounts conspire in misleading us to believe that we think we understand more about human behavior than we do.

My Takeaway

I’ve gotta admit, “my takeaway” for this book has been challenging. I was talking to my neighbor about the book, explaining it as best as I could, and when I finished, she said, “Well, that doesn’t make sense.”  Oy.  This is a book about challenging the very idea of common sense, arguing against historical accounts, questioning “expert” opinions.  Watts presents arguments that are pretty compelling for business owners who are modelling their business on what experts claim are the keys to success.  There is no doubt that information of every kind is valuable, but he makes you rethink what to immediately accept as “gospel.”  I think Watt’s is saying, you can’t throw exactly the same party twice.


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