Everything Is Obvious: How Common Sense Fails Us (Paperback)
Why is the Mona Lisa the most famous painting in the world? Why did Facebook succeed when other social networking sites failed? Did the surge in Iraq really lead to less violence? How much can CEO’s impact the performance of their companies? And does higher pay incentivize people to work hard?
If you think the answers to these questions are a matter of common sense, think again. As sociologist and network science pioneer Duncan Watts explains in this provocative book, the explanations that we give for the outcomes that we observe in life—explanation that seem obvious once we know the answer—are less useful than they seem.
Drawing on the latest scientific research, along with a wealth of historical and contemporary examples, Watts shows how common sense reasoning and history conspire to mislead us into believing that we understand more about the world of human behavior than we do; and in turn, why attempts to predict, manage, or manipulate social and economic systems so often go awry.
It seems obvious, for example, that people respond to incentives; yet policy makers and managers alike frequently fail to anticipate how people will respond to the incentives they create. Social trends often seem to have been driven by certain influential people; yet marketers have been unable to identify these “influencers” in advance. And although successful products or companies always seem in retrospect to have succeeded because of their unique qualities, predicting the qualities of the next hit product or hot company is notoriously difficult even for experienced professionals.
Only by understanding how and when common sense fails, Watts argues, can we improve how we plan for the future, as well as understand the present—an argument that has important implications in politics, business, and marketing, as well as in science and everyday life.
About the Author
Duncan J. Watts is assistant professor of sociology at Columbia University. He lives in New York City.
"Mr. Watts, a former sociology professor and physicist who is now a researcher for Yahoo, has written a fascinating book that ranges through psychology, economics, marketing and the science of social networks.”
- The Wall Street Journal
“It’s about time a sociologist wrote an amazing and accessible book for a non-specialist audience. Everything Is Obvious*: Once You Know the Answer by Duncan J. Watts is that amazing book.”
- Inside Higher Ed
“In this bold thesis, renowned network scientist Duncan J. Watts exposes the complex mechanics of judgement and proposes a radical new way of thinking about human behaviour.”
— Scott Wilson, The Fringe Magazine
“Common sense is a kind of bespoke make-believe, and we can no more use it to scientifically explain the workings of the social world than we can use a hammer to understand mollusks.”
— Nicholas Christakis, The New York Times
“Everything is Obvious is engagingly written and sparkles with counter-intuitive insights. Its modesty about what can and cannot be known also compares favourably with other “big idea” books.”
— James Crabtree, comment editor Financial Times
"Every once in a while, a book comes along that forces us to re-examine what we know and how we know it. This is one of those books. And while it is not always pleasurable to realize the many ways in which we are wrong, it is useful to figure out the cases where our intuitions fail us."
- Dan Ariely, James B. Duke Professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University, and New York Times bestselling author of Predictably Irrational
“A deep and insightful book that is a joy to read. There are new ideas on every page, and none of them is obvious!”
-Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and author of Stumbling on Happiness
"A brilliant account of why, for every hard question, there’s a common sense answer that’s simple, seductive, and spectacularly wrong. If you are suspicious of pop sociology, rogue economics, and didactic history – or, more importantly, if you aren’t! – Everything is Obvious is necessary reading. It will literally change the way you think."
- Eric Klinenberg, Professor of Sociology. New York University
"You have to take notice when common sense, the bedrock thing we’ve always counted on, is challenged brilliantly. Especially when something better than common sense is suggested. As we increasingly experience the world as a maddeningly complex blur, we need a new way of seeing. The fresh ideas in this book, like the invention of spectacles, help bring things into better focus."
- Alan Alda
“Everything is Obvious is indicated for managers, scholars, or anyone else tired of oversimplified, faulty explanations about how business, government, society and even sports work. Temporary side effects of reading Duncan Watts' tour de force include: light-headedness, a tendency to question one's colleagues, temporary doubt in one's own strategies. Long term effects include: Deeper insight into history, current events, corporate politics and any other human activity that involves more than one person at a time. Everything is Obvious is available without a prescription.”
- Dalton Conley, Dean for the Social Sciences, New York University
"A truly important work that's bound to rattle the cages of pseudo- and self-proclaimed experts in every field. If this book doesn't force you to re-examine what you're doing, something is wrong with you."
- Guy Kawasaki, author of Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, and co-founder of Alltop.com.
"Watts brings science to life. A complicated, global, interconnected world, one which often overwhelms, is tamed by wit, skepticism, and the power to challenge conventional wisdom. The book will help you see patterns, where you might have thought chaos ruled."
-Sudhir Venkatesh, William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology at Columbia University