By understanding how and when common sense fails, we can improve our understanding of the present and better plan for the future.
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 be 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.
Watts' argument has important implications in politics, business, and marketing, as well as in science and everyday life.
While what we mean when we say "common sense" may seem to most people like, well, common sense, it is in reality a series of complex social rules, a priori assumptions, and inaccurate instinctive responses, argues Watts (The Structures and Dynamics of Networks) in his absorbing new effort. Watts splits his book into two sections common sense and uncommon sense and presents his examination in 10 chapters that range from "Thinking About Thinking" to "The Proper Study of Mankind." Watts, a sociology professor at Columbia University, references sociological puzzles he's given his students, asking them, for instance, to determine the reason behind an 80% difference in organ-donation rates in two European countries (it's simpler than you'd think). He taps into everything from marketing (a field relying heavily on sociological concepts) to Artificial Intelligence, methodically unpacking assumptions and revealing the hidden intricacies of what we call obvious. Assuring us that "We don't think the way we think we think," Watts unveils the complexities in the science of sociology and offers intriguing ways of testing our assumptions. Watts is clearly a gifted educator; he makes complex concepts and opaque disciplines accessible and pertinent, resulting in a readable, entertaining, and useful book.