What’s it about?

Every day we go about our business, making decisions and getting results. Or lack thereof. Authors Brian Christian and Tom Griffiths decipher the intricate models by which we make those decisions and how we can do it better. In essence, they apply computer science to human decision-making (hence the subtitle).

They look at optimal stopping points, how to sort tasks and lists better, how we schedule poorly and could do it better, and my personal favorite: overfitting. Overfitting is when we add too many factors to some consideration, the extra noise eventually leads us astray. In other words, we guess what will please us later using all the factors that are important to us right now.

The authors also detail such topics as networking and game theory. Here they discuss how we interact with other people, but perhaps make no logical sense in doing so because we start to include in our decisions what other people are thinking.


Why should anyone read it?

If you’re looking to take a closer look at your decision-making process, this book will open up a new world of logical thinking. The different subjects discussed make it easier for the reader to look at what they’re doing. For many of your decisions, you can turn to this book for a second opinion, so to speak.

This is especially true for those who hold leadership positions. Part of emotional intelligence is self-regulation, which is the control of reactions to emotionally-charged thoughts. It’s impossible to control your emotions, but if you have a better handle on how you make decisions and why you do so, you can see a decision more so as a series of manageable steps. These concepts are not just for personal improvement; they can be applied to teams and organizations when collaborating on projects. If an entire team discusses beforehand what can stand in their way, they are more likely to reach a success outcome. Projects also include randomness often, and this book goes into the decisions surrounding random occurrence and when to just let it happen.

I primarily use this book for looking inward. Seeking feedback from others is vital for leaders to be more effective – but it should also be supplemented by self-assessment. For nothing else, if you take only one algorithm-based process away after reading, you’ll be refining your capabilities and strengthening your decisions.


Select Quotations

“It’s true that you’re unlikely to find the needle the majority of the time, but optimal stopping is your best defense against the haystack, no matter how large.”

“Establishing an order ahead of time is less violent than coming to blows every time a mating opportunity or a prime spot of grass becomes available.”

“Regardless of whatever other challenges aging brings, older brains – which must manage a greater store of memories – are literally solving harder computational problems with every passing day.”

“Your likelihood of following a bad idea should be inversely proportional to how bad an idea it is.”

“We don’t only pick the problems that we pose to ourselves. We also pick the problems we pose each other, whether it’s the way we design a city or the way we ask a question.”


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