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Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer

3.8  ·  Rating Details ·  3,324 Ratings  ·  215 Reviews
Why is the Mona Lisa the most famous painting in the world? Why did Facebook succeed when other social networking sites failed? Did the surge in Iraq really lead to less violence? How much can CEO’s impact the performance of their companies? And does higher pay incentivize people to work hard?

If you think the answers to these questions are a matter of common sense, think a
ebook, 352 pages
Published March 29th 2011 by Crown Business
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Al Bità
Nov 03, 2011 Al Bità rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book starts off reasonably well: the first half is devoted to giving us many examples of the failure or inadequacy of 'common sense' to explain or predict the world we live in. The most interesting underlying concept, for me, is that in this world, ALL knowledge is generated and developed for the purposes of prediction: we collect data, develop hypotheses to back up certain patterns we perceive or deduce from that data, and then use these patterns (usually in the form of mathematical formul ...more
Gerard Cronin
Dec 22, 2013 Gerard Cronin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A welcome antidote to Malcolm Gladwell's lazy but satisfying answers. But, it ends abrup
May 07, 2011 blah rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Reasons why I liked this book (on account of my confirmation bias):

1. Watts thinks Malcolm Gladwell is an idiot
2. His criticism of Nassim Taleb's "Black Swan" events
3. Great summaries of various behavioral economics/policy/psychology/sociological experiments
4. Further proof that Nozick was wrong and Rawls/Sandel are right (obviously)
Aaron Arnold
This is frequently described as a book on common sense, which it is, but more importantly it's an investigation on human cognitive limits more generally and also a call to radically restructure the discipline of sociology in light of modern advances in technology. Sociology often gets made fun of in the hierarchies of academic disciplines, but Watts argues that there are reasons why sociology seems so vague and unscientific: not only are sociological problems very complicated in ways that physic ...more
❀Aimee❀ Just one more page...
The book started out with a lot of stories and fascinating new ideas. While we are wired to try to predict outcomes, we really can't do as well as we think. If you're skeptical, you'll become a believer pretty quickly while reading.

What we think is "obvious" is really only that way after the fact. He illustrates this fact by pretending to give some outcome to a situation where the reader can easily assign reasons why the outcome happened. Then he said the opposite outcome was really true, and a
Mar 29, 2012 Deb rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
*Well, that's just obvious!*

It's just common sense, right? Think again!

This book explores the three main types of common sense errors: systemically flawed mental models of individual behavior, even more flawed models of collective behaviors, and misrepresentations of past events which result in us learning less from history than we think we do. The book does a powerful job in exposing the reality that common sense convinces us that we know more than we really do. (Warning: this truth may be mor
Отличная книга, которую рекомендую всем поклонникам критического и системного мышления! Да и просто мудрым людям, желающим разобраться "как это работает" (в смысле, наше сознание, принимающее решения, делающее выводы, выбирающее "лучшее" и т.п.).

По стилю подачи информации и по духу текст ближе всего к книгам Н.Талеба. Автор пишет с юмором, разоблачая расхожие стереотипы обыденного сознания; он постоянно заставляет читателя "включать голову"; удивляет широтой своей эрудиции и глубиной обосновани
Aug 20, 2011 Paula rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whenever I hear (or read) an otherwise intelligent person deriding a social psych experiment-- e.g., "I can't believe someone had to *research* whether the media causes poor body image in teenage girls! Everybody *knows* it does!"--I weep for humanity. The tools of social science are imprecise, and what "everybody knows" is often wrong, or not proven by studies, or rendered inconclusive by the data. That's why we do studies, that's why we keep the research and the conversation going when studies ...more
If you are only a reader of fiction, you probably will not like this book. If however you have some interest in the psychology of human behavior, this may appeal to you. It is well suited for those of us who have some background training and or experience in clinical trials, study groups, and statistics. The text is a bit dry, but not so much so that it is difficult to read. The author does a reasonably good job in explaining how and why people decide to do what they do and form the opinions the ...more
Mar 25, 2015 Kevin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Consider the last national election, your employer's last annual report, or your favorite sports team's last away-game victory. What made the particular outcome happen? Looking backward, conclusions seem foregone; we construct retrospective explanations that justify how what happened had to happen, because, well, it did. But Duncan J. Wells explains that what seems inevitable once it's already happened, is actually deeply contingent and controversial. Exactly why is both bizarre and revealing.

Feb 12, 2013 Ethan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Deep. A bit philosophical. Takes on 'common sense' explanations of social phenomenon like influencers and tipping points. Also describes some of his own very cool research (though you gotta go elsewhere for more details of it).

A couple of my favorite nuggets:

When a forest fire breaks out, we never wonder what made that spark so unique. We only wonder how much dry tinder was lying around the forest and how long the drought had been. But when a video goes viral or a brand takes off, we ONLY wonder
Nov 29, 2011 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book has a brilliant first half where it shows that common sense is a questionable appeal, a dubious guide to action, and a disastrous foundation to policy, while the second half has some key advice but fails to take the truly courageous step, unlike Kahneman, of telling us how to practically distrust ourselves. What this volume serves up instead, the measure of continually analyzing the communication patterns of the internet will literally serve as the telescope that will lead to the remak ...more
Jurgen Appelo
Feb 03, 2016 Jurgen Appelo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great message. Most of our simplistic conclusions are wrong.
Like many works written by academics, Everything is Obvious: Once you know the answer, starts out promising but ends up losing its way. The edition that I "read" was the audio edition, which was narrated (happily) by the author himself. Just as well he was a reasonably competent reader, though somewhat stilted.

Everything is Obvious: Once you know the answer is a challenge to the notion that common sense is good sense. It is a presentation of the author's significant researches into this topic. A
Sep 24, 2012 Koen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Buku ini diawali dengan beberapa kasus di mana orang2 penting, seperti penulis John Gribbin, serta senator AS, menganggap riset sosiologi bukan hal yang penting, misalnya sepenting riset fisika. Riset di bidang fisika tentu amat penting. Namun agak lucu kalau menganggap riset sosial itu tak penting dengan alasan — menurut mereka — bahwa hasilnya bisa ditebak dengan logika biasa, tanpa harus melakukan riset yang luas. Di dekade kedua abad ke-21 ini, dengan analisis yang cukup banyak mengenai jeja ...more
Aug 12, 2011 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was great at first. I read his original book "Six Degrees" and was enjoying this one almost as much. The second half of the book completely lost focus, though, as he jumped around between unrelated points and kept complaining that social scientists aren't given enough credit.

The concepts shared in the book about how outcomes of events seem so certain after the fact, how "common sense" can be completely wrong, and how we often learn the wrong lessons from history were very interesting.
Malin Friess
Duncan Watts argues that our common sense is not as good as we think it should be. When we trust our common sense we often make bad predictions.

His support:

We are duped into believing the Mona Lisa is such an extraordinary painting or Shakespeare such amazing writing. The Mona Lisa is small and average work for Da Vinci. We study these works as masterpieces and eventually it becomes self fullfilling.

Our common sense is a poor predictor as it should have been obvious that Facebook and Yahoo and
Richard Smith
George Davey-Smith recommended that I read this book because he was fascinated by its account of how it is "arbitrary" that certain things--the Mona Lisa, Facebook, the Harry Potter books--become hugely famous and popular. It is not because of their intrinsic qualities (although they must have some merit) but because of other complicated processes that I will try to explain in a blog (primarily to try and get it into my head).

This book is an example of not quite making it. The book could have be
Roger Burk
Jan 02, 2016 Roger Burk rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Plausible, common-sense explanations we think up to explain things can often be wrong. On-line field experiments show that the "six degrees of separation" is pretty much true, but the links do not go through a small number of highly-connected people after all. In complex social systems, the response to inputs can be highly nonlinear, and there's no way to predict them. There is a good deal of randomness in what ideas become popular. Social change comes from a critical mass of easily influenced p ...more
Mar 23, 2016 C rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
After I graduated from business school I went to work on Wall Street and was paid very well. I wanted to see for myself if it is true that "Money can't buy happiness." If you like to test conventional wisdom and take nothing for granted then this book is for you.

That old saw, like common sense, implies a certain model of life. This book advocates that we need to understand our models, their underlying assumptions, their uses and missuses, their limitations, their derivations and implications. F
Arun Jawarlal
It was a promising read until it started becoming a compendium of statistical definitions with examples. It was interesting at times when the examples were fascinating - Namely the promised circular reasoning of Mona Lisa's universal appeal or maybe the Butch Cassidy and Sundance Kid bit to prove that When predicting an outcome, the present moment cannot be considered vital or the psychology of mobs. The book starts getting predictable, which is an irony.
It is part II which made me sit up.
Sep 27, 2011 Joseph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
the book can be broadly separated into 2 parts

(a) how common sense fails us (i) personal level - how we usually think only in term of incentive etc vs circumstantial explanation as to why someone does something (e.g. default setting) (ii) societal level - how the problem at the personal level gets compounded into a bigger problem - we tend to simplify explanations like taking/understanding society as a whole (e.g. explaining market as 1 person, the economy as 1 person) etc (iii) history - and ho
Jun 06, 2014 Tony rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The ideas the author espouses are indeed fascinating and mind opening. The author,while obviously an educated person with well defined opinions, is a scholar and NOT a writer. The premise of this book begs to be satisfying and mind expanding but the writing style is for eye-glazing mostly. Author is writing to himself... not for an audience who seeks enlightenment in an entertaining and engrossing manner. Just because you understand something the common man may not doesn't mean you are well suit ...more
Common sense is fine for negotiating face-to-face interactions, but when you try to use it to make sense of the behavior of big groups of people, it's totally misleading.

It'd be nice to be able to incorporate some of the material in here, about prediction and the failure of intuition into an epistemology class, instead of just going on and on about what knowledge might be.
Aug 17, 2015 Santhosh rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Atila Iamarino
Jan 02, 2012 Atila Iamarino rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Ótima introdução às ciências sociais para mim, que não tinha contato. Muito legal como ele separa o que parece óbvio do que é comprovado de fato, e como dá perspectivas do que realmente podemos saber sobre o futuro e sobre o comportamento humano. Vai bem além do que se propôs.
Nov 08, 2013 Ahmed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook
There are some really great summaries of this book on Goodreads: I like Deb's. Reviews like this have to be long because this book talks about so much stuff, but they are most useful after you've read the book. I'd like to highlight some things for people who haven't read it yet, and yet which might help those who have read it appreciate it more.

Duncan Watts is one of my heroes for two achievements: (1) expanding, with colleagues, the state of the art in path-dependent non-ergodic random process
Craig Lewin
Mar 09, 2017 Craig Lewin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
So, even reading the title, you might be tempted to say, "well, that's obvious" - but this is a very surprising exploration of how our brains instantly backfill knowledge. When the mind finds the path to an answer, it is suddenly illuminated with glowing lights, signs, pointers, ushers, and artificial dust brought in so it seems as though we actually have known it all along.
Jun 06, 2012 Joe rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book reviews the systematic mistakes many people make when applying common sense to figure out the reasoning or rationale behind particular happenstances. The book is well-organized and presents the arguments in a thoughtful and, ultimately, convincing manner.

Most interesting, though, is Duncan's discussion around predictions - why predictions are inaccurate, why we don't accurately analyze our predictions after-the-fact, and the impossibility of anticipating "black swan"-type of events.

Nov 27, 2014 Tim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In de categorie Popular Science kan je vanalles tegenkomen, brol en kwaliteit. De flaptekst van 'Everything Is Obvious' sprak me wel aan, gezien m'n soms kritische en analytische kijk op bepaalde dingen, gebeurtenissen, enz.

In dit boek probeert Watts aan te tonen dat ons gezond verstand het niet altijd bij het rechte eind heeft, dat we vaak gebeurtenissen en dergelijke verkeerd inschatten. Of indien niet verkeerd, dan wel onvolledig. Een recent voorbeeld is de stakingen de afgelopen weken en wa
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Duncan Watts is a principal researcher at Microsoft Research and a founding member of the MSR-NYC lab. From 2000-2007, he was a professor of Sociology at Columbia University, and then, prior to joining Microsoft, a principal research scientist at Yahoo! Research, where he directed the Human Social Dynamics group . He has also served on the external faculty of the Santa Fe Institute and is currentl ...more
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“What appear to us to be causal explanations are in fact just stories—descriptions of what happened that tell us little, if anything, about the mechanisms at work.” 2 likes
“common sense is wonderful at making sense of the world, but not necessarily at understanding it.” 0 likes
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