Reviewed by Palo Garcia
By Steven Johnson
256 pp. Riverhead Books.
“Hindsight is 20/20.”
This is a statement I often say to myself—or long-suffering friends—whenever I deal with the (relatively minor) consequences of a bad decision. Like wearing suede shoes on a rainy day or wearing a belt when going to a buffet dinner. I know I could’ve decided on whatever it was that needed deciding on a whole lot better, but there’s always that age-old saying and chalking everything up to experience. Making mistakes every now and then is like a whetstone to my instincts, or so I’d like to think.
Apart from entertaining the thought of going to art school as a bad decision from time to time—after all, art school set me on an unexpected career path and gave me a couple of good stories to re-tell new friends and strangers—I don’t think I have made a really bad decision that had a long-term impact in my life (yet) or the lives of those who matter the most to me (yet).
But I’m not going to sit on my laurels of mildly bad decisions: there has to be a way to be better at making these darn things!
Steven Johnson’s Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most is more than a bedside-table read for CEOs and world leaders; it’s an interesting combination of legwork, great storytelling, and all the juiciness of a behind-the-scenes look at some of the modern world’s most spectacular—and spectacularly bad—decisions.
First off, decision-making is an art
Having gone to art school made me realize one thing: art is more than pure, raw talent. It’s about logging in the hours to learn techniques and imposing discipline on one’s self to be ready to create something majestic when one finally finds inspiration. Likewise, art is not like science where precise steps have to be taken to arrive to the same results every time. Art, though, involves a process: steps that one has taken over and over again to improve, sharpen one’s skills, and shorten the time it takes to create something.
According to Johnson, making the hard decisions is akin to art. There is a process, but it’s not an exact one; that undertaking the process sharpens your abilities to make the next long-term decision better.
The process he proposes is simple: mapping, predicting, deciding. Sounds simple, right? It, however, takes a whole lot of thinking, strategizing, and open-mindedness during each step of the process.
He dedicates a chapter to each step, patiently reconstructing and fleshing out famous and infamous decisions, the impacts of which still rippling across the lives of millions of people throughout generations. All the juicy history of notorious decisions is balanced out by hard facts, including statistics and results of psychological and social science research.
Johnson’s book takes the reader through a journey that feels like a rehearsal for the actual decision-making process. It’s patient to explain, elaborate, and enlighten—it’s hard to put the book down without reflecting on good and bad decisions that created an impact in your life.
If there’s anything I will take away from this book years from now, it’s that no one is immune from making bad decisions. It’s never enough to be just smart or acting in good faith, as a lot of decisions come to that. Johnson shares anecdotes when admitting to not being able to see 100% clearly into the future is the first step toward a decision that’s beneficial for everyone, even if it’s not for the short-term.
To read this book as a CEO, a major political figure, or a general is an act similar to another age-old saying, “preaching to the choir.” To read this book as someone like me—with a history of mildly bad decisions but with infinite potential to make devastatingly bad ones—is, indeed, a good decision.
Farsighted by Steven Johnson will be available soon at Fully Booked stores. To reserve a copy in advance, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Palo Garcia is a writer by trade and a book hoarder at heart. She hopes to one day conquer the behemoth that is her to-be-read pile. She sometimes talks about books and films on social media (@palollibee on Twitter and Instagram).
[Thoughts and views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Fully Booked. Then again, we love our authors anyway.]