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Farsighted

How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most

By Steven Johnson
15-minute read
Audio available
Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most by Steven Johnson

Farsighted (2018) is concerned with the complexity of decision-making. It demonstrates why decision-making can be so difficult, and how hard it can be to predict the outcome of any given decision. Farsighted also provides some helpful tools that can help anyone make better decisions, despite the difficulties.

  • Strategists and managers
  • Psychologists
  • Ditherers who struggle to make decisions

Steven Johnson is a bestselling nonfiction author. His previous publications include Where Good Ideas Come From, How We Got to Now and Everything Bad is Good for You. Johnson is also a website creator and blogger and has co-created successful TV shows such as How We Got to Now, which aired on PBS and the BBC.

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Farsighted

How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most

By Steven Johnson
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most by Steven Johnson
Synopsis

Farsighted (2018) is concerned with the complexity of decision-making. It demonstrates why decision-making can be so difficult, and how hard it can be to predict the outcome of any given decision. Farsighted also provides some helpful tools that can help anyone make better decisions, despite the difficulties.

Key idea 1 of 9

We all fall prey to our blind spots while making decisions, even George Washington.

In the summer of 1776, the Revolutionary War in North America was in full swing. The Americans, led by George Washington, sought to break free from the shackles of British rule. But the British refused to let go. As they massed their navy with New York in their sights, Washington was left in a quandary. Although it was clear that an attack was coming, it was less clear how the British would launch it.

This lesson from history demonstrates just how complex decision-making in real-life situations can be.

Washington was faced with what’s known as a full-spectrum decision. That means numerous factors had to be taken into account for the right decision to be made.

In the battle for New York, Washington had a lot to think about. Where were there landing sites for British ships on the New York coast? What effect would the strong currents of the East River have in moving his own troops from New York to Brooklyn?

Washington also had to consider the damage British cannons could do against New York’s fortifications and the potential risk of life for his own soldiers in pitched battle. He even had to consider the internal American politics in the Continental Congress, which demanded that he stand firm against the British.

Needless to say, Washington had a tough time deciding what to do, and eventually, he found himself making the wrong decision. He actually erred in the very first one he made. He shouldn’t even have tried to defend New York at all. Since the superior British outnumbered his forces, it would have been much easier to retreat inland. But this mistake is not unique to Washington – we are often prone to forget our blind spots when making decisions.

There’s a name for this common error in human reasoning. It’s known as loss aversion. Studies repeatedly show it to be a characteristic innate to humans. We prefer to resist losses than to seek gains, even when it’d be better in the long run to do the opposite. Washington, however, was smart enough not to stick it out until his troops were completely crushed. Once his forces began to lose, he quickly signaled the retreat. He was still a born leader, and the Revolutionary War would eventually be won, despite the many difficult decisions along the way.

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