Steven Johnson is always an interesting read. I’ve been a fan of his since I initially read “Where Good Ideas Come From.” In this book, he clearly begins with the question of “how do we make good decisions?” In a way, this book is the natural sequel (if it can be said that non-fiction books can have sequels), to Ideas. If you wonder how you come up with an interesting idea, the process is similar to coming up with a good decision – or at least an informed methodical decision.
Like ideas, decisions don’t really come from the blue. Even the famous stories that Gladwell discusses in Blink, come from a long history of experience and relate to the amount of information that we have about a given situation. Now, we can of course, come to a decision without all the information we need. In fact, it’s guaranteed that this will happen. We never have all the information we ever need to make a decision. This book takes that as an axiom, clearly stated and referenced throughout the book. It’s not just a one off obvious statement. Johnson notes that the uncertainty of the outcome prevents a perfect decision plus, the fact that we cannot test what a decision would do before taking action. The best we can do is simulate and for most decisions, the best way to simulate is to tell a story.
In fact, day dreaming is one of the best ways for us to tell a story about how life could be different or how we could positively impact our lives. For example, if you’re thinking of getting a new job, day dreaming about how that job can improve your life is a great way of helping understand the impacts of your decision making process.
This book includes a number of real life examples of complex decisions that went well or went poorly. In the cases where things went well he digs into the decision making process and how these tools made an effective case for following the decision that was ultimately used. In the cases where things went poorly, he investigates the blindspots that lead to the poor decision (including a couple personal anecdotes) and the result.
I found this book to be really helpful and believe that it provides tools that can help improve our deliberation process.