Farsighted

Author: Steven Johnson

People have been making decisions of great importance for as long as there have been people. With the help of evolution, some of those decision-making tools have been genetically encoded into our human DNA as biases and heuristics.

What we’ve learned from the field of study that Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman founded – cognitive psychology – is that when the outcome of a decision is important, the process we employ to achieve the best outcome must be more thorough and rigorous. Our genetic algorithms for decision-making work well most of the time and have helped our species survive thus far, but are increasingly ill-suited to modern challenges we face. 

That’s where Farsighted comes into the picture. The author offers a cursory review of some of the ‘state of the art’ tools that people and teams can use to improve the quality of their decision-making when there’s a lot at stake. In essence, all of them add up to methods that slow down your thinking to ensure consideration of all the angles. He doesn’t tread a lot of new ground or share anything that a sophisticated reader and experienced “decider” hasn’t already heard. Despite that, the book is enjoyable because of the anecdotes the author employs. 

Read this book if you want a short refresher on decision-making tools and a few interesting stories of decisions good and bad from the past. If you’re expecting new information beyond fun facts or surface-level frameworks, I’d suggest looking elsewhere.

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The Science of Mindfulness: A Research-Based Path to Well-Being

Author: Ronald Siegel 

I’ve tried meditation a few times in my life, but not yet with the dedication that I apply to other areas. Partly, I’ve been skeptical of its effects. And partly, it’s hard to do! I decided to read this book because the author is a Professor and clinical psychologist at the Harvard Medical School. I figured if anyone could make a believer out of me, it’d be a well-credentialed academic and clinician.

Well, it worked – I’m now a believer that effective mindfulness can really help people improve outlook on life. It’s eye-opening to learn (from this book) about the many controlled studies that have demonstrated positive mental effects of this practice. It’s been demonstrated to effectively treat depression, help people overcome trauma, and generally come to terms with the stream of thoughts that constantly flow through human brains.

Despite all of this information, I must admit that I haven’t yet restarted my efforts at regular practice. Something unknown is holding me back. But next time I try, I think it’ll be easier to stay motivated knowing there’s a real basis for it demonstrated in scientific research.

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Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think

Authors: Hans Rosling, Anna Rosling Rönnlund, Ola Rosling

A couple years ago I watched some of Hans Rosling’s TED talks and found them captivating. He was a Professor of Public Health, and had an amazing way of bringing statistics about the world to life. He focused on busting commonly-held but outdated myths about the world. He passed away near the completion of this book, and luckily his collaborators (his son & daughter-in-law) were able to press on to its publication.

Factufulness means having a fact-based world view. Because humans take so many mental shortcuts (see: cognitive bias), we often fall into patterns of thinking that are just plain wrong. The authors break down our errors into 10 human instincts, some of which are pseudonyms for commonly-documented heuristics (The Straight Line Instinct, The Generalization Instinct), and others are cousins (i.e. The Blame Instinct, The Urgency Instinct).

The surface message of the book is that globally the world has been improving at a rapid pace. The deeper message is that we should acknowledge evidence of how our world is evolving and  update our world view (i.e. practice Factfulness)!

The best way to decide if you should read this book is the 3-minute quiz below:

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Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It

I liked this book so much that I’m planning to re-listen to it soon with a notebook handy. I first heard Chris Voss on Shane Parrish’s podcast, and I really liked his style. He was a former FBI hostage negotiator, and shares stories from that world. Much of his content contradicts negotiation conventional wisdom, and I’m always a sucker for a contrarian view. Just a few examples: BATNA sets you up to fail. Getting counterpart to say NO is more important than YES. Don’t meet in the middle. (View on Amazon)

Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business

Written by Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit. This book is heavy on research studies, diving into the topics of motivation, focus, and goal setting, among others. Of note was the section on teams, with highlights from Google’s People Operations team and the founding of Saturday Night Live. This is a must-read for anyone who’s on a mission to become more effective. (View on Amazon)

How Will You Measure Your Life?

Okay so this one is a tiny bit self help-y, but really not so much. The author’s (Clayton Christensen of The Innovator’s Dilemma fame) premise is that his class at Harvard Business School had the best of intentions and the future looked bright, but as time went on more and more of them ended up living unhappy lives despite all sorts of professional success. So he applies lessons from his research into businesses to help understand why the best of intentions can lead to failure, and offers guidance about how to structure your activities to get what you want out of life. (View on Amazon)

Siddhartha’s Brain: Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment

This author makes a case for the idea that mindfulness/meditation has tangible benefits, backing it up with studies and wrapping it around the story of Siddhartha and the foundation of Buddhism. The studies are, by the author’s own admission, fairly “early” with small sample sizes and less than ideal control groups in many cases. Despite all of that, there’s something to be said for the early data showing that mindfulness practice helps humans function better in this crazy world. (View on Amazon)