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Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most
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Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most

3.55  ·  Rating details ·  1,006 ratings  ·  154 reviews
The hardest choices are also the most consequential. So why do we know so little about how to get them right?

Big, life-altering decisions matter so much more than the decisions we make every day, and they're also the most difficult: where to live, whom to marry, what to believe, whether to start a company, how to end a war. There's no one-size-fits-all approach for addr
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published September 4th 2018 by Riverhead
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Average rating 3.55  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,006 ratings  ·  154 reviews

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Oct 12, 2018 rated it liked it
There are some interesting points here, but many of them were laid out in Superforcasting and other behavioral econ books. There is a lot to learn here about that science (if you are new to it), but I didn't gain any insight at all into "How to make the decisions that matter the most." Besides maybe--read more novels?
Todd Davidson
Sep 25, 2018 rated it liked it
I am a big fan of Steven Johnson and was really excited to see he was digging into decision making. The first three chapters are 5 stars and typical of Johnson's excellent story telling. Those chapters detail the process of long term decision making 1. Mapping 2. Predicting 3. Deciding. They come to life with stories of major decisions (Bin Laden raid, Collect Pond). The book kind of falls apart on the back 9. Johnson tries to show how to use these techniques in different decisions. He goes supe ...more
RoAn Strikwerda Holding B.V.
Nothing new

This book was recommended by The Economist as offering new insights. The book is a pleasant and entertaining read by anecdotes, but fails to offer new or even deeper insights for sound farsighted decision makng. Of course, I am writing this living in the Netherlands which has quite a good track record of sound farsighted policy decision making in the public sphere and is home to e.g. Shell, known for its scenario planning and Philips Electronics known for technological forecasti
Jillian Doherty
Feb 28, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Taking methodology from Ben Franklin's moral algebra, Isaiah Berlin’s fox and Hedgehog philosophy, Darwin’s consideration to get married, Washington’s pivotal loss of NY/the war, to Obama’s plan to successfully take down Osama bin Laden- all of these leaders in success used foresight to make successful decisions

By examining how we changed from social understanding to simulation strategy we gain successful foresight.
How we think about data, like in an algebraic equations, help a
Chief Akif
Oct 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
You have thousands of decisions still to be made in your lifetime. Some small, some large. The scariest ones are the big ones. Their implications are vast, and cascade over into every aspect of your life.

And yet, you haven't been taught how to make big decisions well. Not in a systematic fashion. Not in school, not at work, not at home. You're sometimes told to "just go with your gut." In other words, using system 1 (from Daniel Kahnemann's "Thinking Fast and Slow") for decisions that rea
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I received this book, for free, in exchange for an honest review.

This book was a good book on decision making.

It tends to be a bit long winded for my tastes and spent a rather long time covering a few points.

To make this worse for me was the fact that most of the decision making was group decision making. I am more interested in individual decision making as most groups I've been in have been in engaged in top down decision making and I had/have little power to influence their deci
Sep 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
a wonderful book! smart, well-organized, enjoyable to read, insightful and very useful when struggling with an important "full-spectrum" complex decision. it teaches you a lot about structuring the decisional process, allowing enough time for gathering information and mapping the parameters of the decision, then different methods of predicting possible outcomes, and then methods for deciding. it uses examples from politics and literature, discusses different important decision humankind is facin ...more
Feb 27, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars - this started out strong and became less relevant towards the end. It gave some interesting and helpful ideas for making big decisions, which would be especially helpful for organizations where decisions are based on likelihood of probable outcomes. I think that personal decisions still depend on so many unknowns, that even though the suggestions would improve the process, I’m not sure they would have an impact about something like whether to move and whom to marry.
Nov 21, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a fun book by a science writer about what contemporary behavioral and neuroscience has to say about how we make long term consequential multi-variable decisions that have consequence far into the future - even though they are too often made on less informed and short sighted bases. The writer is knowledgeable about the current state of research and is skilled and writing about it. The result is a wonderful popular book, comparable or superior to much of the current popular literature on ...more
Graeme Roberts
Nov 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Making complex, multifaceted decisions can seem almost impossible, and even relatively simple ones, like choosing from a Chinese restaurant menu, can be difficult. I found Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most to be a well-written and enlightening overview, and I enjoyed listening to it.

Steven Johnson talked too much, I thought, about decisions that have no practical si
Greg Janicki
Oct 19, 2018 rated it liked it
Not sure I got much new out of this book. The specific literary fiction example running through the book was more distracting than practical.
Aug 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
How do we make the decisions that matter the most? What science is there to the situations in which unknowns are unavoidable?

Often times, decisions arise out of the disorganization and chaos of different people working toward separate objectives. This is essentially shortsightedness. The ability to intentionally calculate decisions for future outcomes is a uniquely human advanced attribute (moral-mental algebra). When making difficult decisions, the tools we use to measure and weigh certain sit
As a fan of Steven Johnson’s, I was really interested to see him take on neuroscience and decision making analysis. And, well, this is fine. He’s packed a lot of information into the book, with several major examples he returns to as a way of explaining concepts (the capture of bin Laden, Washington’s loss in Brooklyn, Darwin’s decision to marry, etc). However, this just didn’t gel as a compulsively readable work of narrative science reporting. He got there at times - the final chapter has an an ...more
Nov 04, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: real-world
Johnson delves into decision making on all levels from personal to national. He discusses military, environmental, personal, and even interplanetary decisions that we might not be farsighted enough to see their consequences. Some of these are: George Washington’s decision at the Battle of Brooklyn Heights; Obama’s decision on Osama bin Laden; NYC decision on Collect Pond and making a park from an abandoned overhead rail line; Darwin’s decision to marry; author’s decision to relocate to the West ...more
Sep 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science, stat, favorites
Steven Johnson always delivers! I like the density of facts and logic in his books, and the fact that all the pieces in the book come together to be an entity (examples in the beginning of the book are analyzed from different perspectives throughout the book), instead of some other books I'm listening that lack coherence.
Megan Rosol
Nov 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
DNF. Good/bad decision-making mostly shown through stories of historical events. Ok but not very memorable.
Jun 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Can't go wrong with Steven Johnson. Except if you're at a hospital and been diagnosed with Steven-Johnson syndrome, a gruesomely hideous skin disease. In any other situation if you're asked to press a button to continue your fate's tryst with Steven Johnson, you should absolutely press the button. Except of course if it turns out to be a date with pretty shit tennis player Steven Johnson who sometimes goes by Steven just to be cool. Still, the real Steven Johnson's books are good enough that you ...more
Peter Merholz
Sep 23, 2018 rated it liked it
This is a perfectly find book on the subject of decision making, specifically decisions that warrant broader research, planning, and real considered thinking through. (As opposed to quick decisions, of the type addressed in Gladwell's _Blink_).

That said, this book came across as perfunctory, and, coming from Steven Johnson, thus disappointing. I've come to expect greater insight, stranger (and more revealing) connections, a more compelling narrative thrust.

There are a collection of about a doz
Jan 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Given the current tendency to focus on personalities, beliefs, and short term results over thoughtful consideration of options when making decisions with long term consequences, “Farsighted” is an important and timely book.

Johnson weaves historical stories, fiction, and research into decision making together to help us understand what goes into a good decision making process, in particular a process for making decisions that have long term impact. A recurring theme in the book is how the best l
Starts strong, then goes off in an unexpected direction that feels ... tenuous at best for a book that seemed to be about decision science and instead ended with an odd evaluation of the author’s personal cross-country move and then an extended mediation on Middlemarch. Still, the early chapters are a neat, engaging read — though they offer little beyond what’s found in Tetlock or Kahneman or Taleb. Ultimately an enjoyable, if light, read.
Nari Kannan
Oct 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Nice book about a process for making decisions. Interesting examples given for the three steps - mapping, predicting and deciding. Many decisions are hardly this or that. Lateral thinking can expand the choices available (mapping) and you need to simulate the outcomes if you chose one path over another. Then you decide using a spreadsheet putting down all objective and subjective outcomes now and down the road. This book could be half its size. He gets down ratholes - the book Middlemarch seems ...more
Aug 05, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: work
This book is about the steps to making good decisions around events that have long term repercussions. The book uses three major events as examples of farsighted decisions:

One is from the late 1700s in the Manhattan area. It dealt with a pond and what do with it. With little debate, it was filled in and eventually became an eye sore rather than using its potential to become a natural area (eg, similar to Central Park).
The second decision deals with the search for Osama Bin Laden. This was fasc
Taylor Ahlstrom
Sep 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
Farsighted is Steven Johnson’s how-to manual for making better long-term decisions. But far more than just a guide with tips and tools, Farsighted is a personal and emotional process. Johnson, as if taking his own “full-spectrum” advice, covers the topic of decision-making from every angle. He provides not just scientific evidence, but also personal stories from his own life, detailed recountings of major political decisions, personal stories from the lives of real people like Benjamin Franklin and Charles Darwin, ...more
Nathan Dowell
Jul 31, 2019 rated it really liked it
I can easily recall a recent decision of mine that was flawed from the outset. I under considered multiple variables and scenarios and focused too much on the benefits of the decision. This, perhaps needless to say, led to some very unsatisfactory results. The obviousness of these failed decisions in hindsight is the emphasis of Steven Johnson's book, "Farsighted." Drawing from psychology, literature, strategies of war, neuroscience and other fields, Johnson pieces together some beneficial metho ...more
Ryan Kapsar
Steven Johnson is always an interesting read. I've been a fan of his since I initially read "Where Good Ideas Come From." In this book, he clearly begins with the question of "how do we make good decisions?" In a way, this book is the natural sequel (if it can be said that non-fiction books can have sequels), to Ideas. If you wonder how you come up with an interesting idea, the process is similar to coming up with a good decision - or at least an informed methodical decision.

Like ideas, decisio
Oct 31, 2018 rated it it was ok
I don't want to come off as too harsh, but I do feel like this book is the worst version of a mash-up between How to Measure Anything and Stumbling on Happiness. I think the author brings up good points on pros-and-cons lists and pre-mortems, but the science for storytelling the future is... just not there. I mean, Dan Gilbert said it best:

What my book suggests is that this isn't a particularly reliable way to make these decisions, to make these so-called affective forecasts. But it does turn out there is a way tha/>
Johnson demonstrates his ability to take an overarching theme, the importance of long-view decision making, and think about the broad implication that theme has as it across all aspects of our lives. He does this by pulling from various disciplines in order to demonstrate the validity and applicability to life. Farsighted is all about decision making, how as humans we are hard-wired biologically to tell stories, to day-dream, and to imagine all the future possibilities. That gift is a basic biol ...more
Karen Kline
Feb 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am a big fan of Daniel Kahneman's work, so I was eager to read this book. I was not disappointed. While Johnson cites plenty of research, he is more of a storyteller than Kahneman, and I appreciate both of them. My takeaway from the book is that when making decisions seek out a diverse group of advisors. Include people who may not be experts. Think beyond the decision about how others will feel with the possible outcomes. We are often too focused on our own beliefs and how we, ourselves, will ...more
Chad Kohalyk
Unlike most of SJ's books, this didn't reveal a niche corner of scientific history or thought. Many of the techniques of decision-making he describes in this book I have been exposed to either on the job or in grad school, but his point that learning how to make good "farsighted" decisions is probably a skill everyone should learn (not just in economics or executive ed classes) is well taken.

But boy can Johnson tell a story! His ability to smoothly tie literary and scientific referen
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Steven Johnson is the bestselling author of ten books, including Wonderland, How We Got to Now, Where Good Ideas Come From, The Invention of Air, The Ghost Map, and Everything Bad Is Good for You.
The founder of a variety of influential websites, he is the host and co-creator of the PBS and BBC series How We Got to Now. Johnson lives in Marin County, California, and Brooklyn, New York, with his wife a
“If you find yourself mapping a “whether or not” question, you’re almost always better off turning it into a “which one” question that gives you more available paths.” 0 likes
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