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Farsighted
Cover of Farsighted
Farsighted
How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most
Borrow Borrow
The hardest choices are also the most consequential. So why do we know so little about how to get them right?
Big, life-altering decisions matter so much more than the decisions we make every day, and they're also the most difficult: where to live, whom to marry, what to believe, whether to start a company, how to end a war. There's no one-size-fits-all approach for addressing these kinds of conundrums.
Steven Johnson's classic Where Good Ideas Come From inspired creative people all over the world with new ways of thinking about innovation. In Farsighted, he uncovers powerful tools for honing the important skill of complex decision-making. While you can't model a once-in-a-lifetime choice, you can model the deliberative tactics of expert decision-makers. These experts aren't just the master strategists running major companies or negotiating high-level diplomacy. They're the novelists who draw out the complexity of their characters' inner lives, the city officials who secure long-term water supplies, and the scientists who reckon with future challenges most of us haven't even imagined. The smartest decision-makers don't go with their guts. Their success relies on having a future-oriented approach and the ability to consider all their options in a creative, productive way.
Through compelling stories that reveal surprising insights, Johnson explains how we can most effectively approach the choices that can chart the course of a life, an organization, or a civilization. Farsighted will help you imagine your possible futures and appreciate the subtle intelligence of the choices that shaped our broader social history.
The hardest choices are also the most consequential. So why do we know so little about how to get them right?
Big, life-altering decisions matter so much more than the decisions we make every day, and they're also the most difficult: where to live, whom to marry, what to believe, whether to start a company, how to end a war. There's no one-size-fits-all approach for addressing these kinds of conundrums.
Steven Johnson's classic Where Good Ideas Come From inspired creative people all over the world with new ways of thinking about innovation. In Farsighted, he uncovers powerful tools for honing the important skill of complex decision-making. While you can't model a once-in-a-lifetime choice, you can model the deliberative tactics of expert decision-makers. These experts aren't just the master strategists running major companies or negotiating high-level diplomacy. They're the novelists who draw out the complexity of their characters' inner lives, the city officials who secure long-term water supplies, and the scientists who reckon with future challenges most of us haven't even imagined. The smartest decision-makers don't go with their guts. Their success relies on having a future-oriented approach and the ability to consider all their options in a creative, productive way.
Through compelling stories that reveal surprising insights, Johnson explains how we can most effectively approach the choices that can chart the course of a life, an organization, or a civilization. Farsighted will help you imagine your possible futures and appreciate the subtle intelligence of the choices that shaped our broader social history.
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    Mapping

    "If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well wadded with stupidity."

    —George Eliot, Middlemarch

    Long before Brooklyn became one of the most densely populated urban regions in the country, back when it was a modest hamlet on a bluff overlooking the prosperous harbor town of New York, a long ridge of thick woods ran through the center of the borough's current borders, stretching from present-day Greenwood Cemetery through Prospect Park all the way to Cypress Hill. Locals had given it a name straight out of Tolkien: the Heights of Gowan.

    As geological formations go, the Heights of Gowan were hardly unusual. At their peak, they rose only two hundred feet over the glacier-flattened plains and tidal ponds of Long Island. Yet in the summer of 1776, the Heights found themselves at the center of world history. Just months before, the British had endured a humiliating retreat from Boston. Capturing New York, the trading center of the colonies and the gateway to the mighty Hudson (then called the North River), was the obvious countermove, given the British dominance in sea power.

    Perched at the tip of an island facing a vast bay, New York presented an easy target for the king's armada. The problem lay in holding on to the city. From the fortified bluffs of modern-day Brooklyn Heights on Long Island, downtown New York could be continuously bombarded. "For should the enemy take hold New York while we hold on to Long Island, they will find it almost impossible to subsist," American general Charles Lee wrote. To hold on to the city without heavy casualties, British commander William Howe would ultimately need to capture Brooklyn. And Brooklyn was protected by the Heights of Gowan. It was not the topography that created the natural barricade but rather the dense canopy of eastern deciduous forest that covered the ridge, with its towering oaks and hickory trees and heavy thicket on the ground. An army could not hope to move a large mass of men and equipment through such an environment, and besides, if the battle turned into the forest, the Revolutionary forces would have the upper hand.

    The Heights were not a perfect barricade, however. Four roads cut through the woods from south to north: Gowanus, Flatbush, Bedford, and a small gorge that went by the name Jamaica Pass. If the British chose not to make a direct assault on Brooklyn or Manhattan from the water, they would likely have to move their troops through these narrow conduits.

    From the moment word spread in early June that the British ships had left Halifax, headed south, it was clear to everyone that the British would attempt to take New York. The question was how they would go about doing it. That was the crux of the decision that confronted George Washington in the long, quiet summer of 1776, as an imposing armada-the "four hundred ships in New York Harbor" that appear in the opening minutes of Hamilton-took anchor off the shores of Staten Island. Should he defend Manhattan or Brooklyn? Or, perhaps, should he concede that New York was beyond defending, a hopeless cause, and move the fight to more promising ground?

    Washington was confronting a classic example of a full-spectrum decision, one that required him to think simultaneously on several different scales of experience. To make the right decision, Washington had to think about the topography of the land, those ridges and bluffs and beaches; he had to think...

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    May 21, 2018
    Science writer Johnson (Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World) looks at decision-making, on both the individual and collective level, persuasively arguing that it should be approached not intuitively, but deliberately, rationally, and even scientifically. A wise decision-maker, he believes, should engage in “full-spectrum mapping” of the alternatives at hand. As an example of a collective decision, he returns repeatedly to the painstaking process by which the Obama administration concluded that Osama bin Laden was holed up in a house in Abbottabad, Pakistan, and chose to storm that house. Johnson is particularly interesting on some of the momentous collective decisions facing humanity today, such as whether to make superintelligent machines that might ultimately outsmart their creators. Regarding individual decisions, one should build mental models of the repercussions, both for oneself and for others. Johnson also observes how great literature, such as George Eliot’s Middlemarch, helps readers broaden their emotional frame of reference and develop understanding and empathy for the sensibilities of others. Johnson is a succinct, colorful, and skillful writer, and this book is one of those rare works that is highly relevant to the daily functioning of just about everybody. Agent: Lydia Wills, Lydia Wills.

  • Kirkus

    July 1, 2018
    The bestselling science writer explores the elements of complex decision-making.Whom should I marry? Should I move? Should the United States occupy Iraq? Making tough, long-term, deliberative choices, writes Johnson (Wonderland: How Play Made the Modern World, 2016, etc.), is not taught in school, but it should be. In this bright, nuanced, story-filled book, he draws on the work of behavioral psychologists and neuroscientists to explain how to decide about things that really matter. "We need time to deliberate, to weigh the options, to listen to different points of view before we render a judgment," he writes. His recurrent, fascinating example is the nine months of "debate and deliberation" that led to the successful U.S. raid on Osama bin Laden's hiding place in Pakistan in 2011. Was bin Laden really in the compound? How to get in? (They examined 37 possible ways.) Should we capture or kill? Other examples include urban planning decisions: New York City buried its polluted Collect Pond in 1812 (rather than turn it into a public park), and within 30 years, the area became the notorious Five Points slum. In the early 2000s, the same city decided to revitalize (rather than demolish) abandoned West Side rail tracks, creating High Line Park. Johnson examines factors that make farsighted thinking challenging. Unlike simpler, pro-versus-con choices, complex decisions resemble the sort of quandaries that require environmental impact studies: "They involve multiple interacting variables; they demand thinking that covers a full spectrum of different experiences and scales; they force us to predict the future with varying levels of certainty." Often, they involve conflicting objectives or initially unclear options. The author details techniques for surmounting such obstacles--e.g., how to map variables, predict where potential paths may lead, and make a final decision. He stresses the importance of simulations and scenario-planning and makes an interesting if overlong case for how reading novels can improve decision-making.Close readers will undoubtedly learn to look carefully before leaping.

    COPYRIGHT(2018) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Farsighted
How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most
Steven Johnson
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