Everything Is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer by Duncan Watts, Crown Business, 352 pages, $26. 00, Hardcover, March 2011, ISBN 9780385531689 We’ve all been told to use common sense, usually after we’ve made a common mistake. And it is pretty easy to criticize someone else’s decision making by saying, “Why, it’s just common sense!
We've all been told to use common sense, usually after we've made a common mistake. And it is pretty easy to criticize someone else's decision making by saying, "Why, it's just common sense!" But sociologist Duncan Watt's new book, Everything Is Obvious: Once You Know the Answer argues that we should (usually) forget common sense entirely. Problems in society, the economy, innovation, and other situations beyond day-to-day activity should be researched critically, and understood from many angles. This point itself might be common sense, but the author asserts that it happens less than we might assume, and this lack of critical thinking needs to be addressed. He states:
These days, common sense serves the same purpose as mythology. By providing ready explanations for whatever particular circumstances the world throws at us, common sense gives us the confidence to survive from day to day, and relieves us of the burden of worrying about whether what we think we know is really true, or is just something we happen to believe. The cost, however, is that we think we have understood things that in fact we have simply papered over with a plausible-sounding story. And because this illusion of understanding in turn undercuts our motivation to treat social problems the way we treat problems in medicine, engineering, and science, the unfortunate result is that common sense actually inhibits our understanding of the world.Following this premise, Watt goes on to explain how the human mind works in different situations, and the same situations with different variables, revealing why we believe some things and not others, what we understand as truth, and how we make decisions. The chapter, "Thinking About Thinking" further explores the scientific side of how our brains work, and mixes in cultural and social forces that affect how we think. From there, ideas about crowdsourcing, the bias of history, predicting, and planning are analyzed not only for how they became tools for us to use, but also how our assumptions about them, and other characteristics, limit them from truly helping us. As the title states, we don't know things until they are pointed out to us, even though we "knew" them already.
Sound mind-bending? It is a bit, but if you are a fan of the kinds of big ideas that Dan Ariely and Malcom Gladwell write about, you'll be instantly engaged by Everything is Obvious. This book is for entrepreneurs, managers, and front-line employees—all of whom are expected to be smart, avoid problems, and base future decisions on past performance—because it offers lessons on how to avoid jumping to conclusions, how to pursue details, and how to make decisions based on information, not assumptions.