Customer Reviews

25
4.2 out of 5 stars
Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World (Bradford Books)
Format: HardcoverChange
Price:$18.41 + Free shipping with Amazon Prime
Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
on February 4, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I was very excited to read this book. I had heard about the research from NPR and wanted to know the details. I was trained as a scientist and I love seeing how other scientists communicate their ideas to the public.

I was hoping this book would answer questions I had after hearing the NPR piece. How did the researchers get the idea to look at nonverbal signals in the first place? Which signals tend to be most predictive? Are there nonverbal signals that I give out that I might want to change depending on context?

After reading this book, including the appendices, I'm sad to say I still don't have answers at a level of detail that is satisfying to me. I don't really have ideas on what I could do differently, nor do I have enough info to convince another scientist (read - my husband) that the research is solid. The book was long on hypothesizing about applications of the work, but short on the science. While the authors gave many details about their statistical methods, I wanted more information about how their sociometers worked, what the data looked like that came out of the devices, how they processed that data and what kind of decisions they had to make in data collection and processing.

I may have been a little harsh in judging Honest Signals. I read it immediately after reading Gary Klein's Sources of Power, which is an examplar of popular science writing for the public (If you have any interest in human decision-making, I highly recommend it.). But all in all, the research this book is built on is fascinating, but the book left me disappointed.
33 commentsWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
27 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on January 4, 2009
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Idiots and gossip represent the biggest danger to idea markets and networked intelligence says MIT Media Lab Professor Alex Pentland in his findings, "Honest Signals." Of particular note is that in large groups behavioral dynamics can cause for less than stellar results via bad ideas introduced (idiots) and shared sources that repeat the same information over and over again (gossip). Anyone who has questioned the 2.0 echo chamber or wisdom of crowds can identify with these issues, yet Pentland demonstrates networked intelligence is superior to the individuals.

Honest Signals reveals findings from a new technology called the Sociometer that measure human behavior, including overwhelming proof that humans do not make rational, logical decisions, instead opting for a base networked form of primal signaling amongst ourselves. This empirical evidence proves collaborative use of body language and other signals are more important in communications and decision making than theories of messaging and big man management. Further the findings bulwark the collaborative trends we are seeing in the social web, which brings us back to idiots and gossip.

Anyone who has participated in Twitter or a highly engaged wiki environment can see this networked intelligence at work. And often the wisdom of the crowd can go astray in a bit of a frenzy or simply put, bad group-think. So the question becomes how to improve idea markets for better collaboration, performance and use, an activity the Media Lab, Intel and Hewlett-Packard are all actively trying to solve.

The idiot factor -- introduction of bad ideas -- can easily be weeded out by performance. Someone who cannot deliver good intellectual capital simply loses credibility (idiot image by Geoff Greene).

The gossip factor seems to be much tougher. While "me, too" may count as approval, the sociological problem lies in a variety of societal pressures (cliques, etc.) and subjective mental quirks. One idea spread across many is not many ideas, rather it's still only one alternative and its popularity may be temporal.

For those who lament the echo chamber, we have to be discerning in large distributed environments and community idea markets like the blogosphere and Twitter, respectively. It's important to source ideas and understand which ones come from independent sources and which ones are simply, "me, too" theories.

A couple of tips from Honest Thinking include 1) tight social groups rarely have multiple unique ideas and 2) make sure you use different sources of information than some other friends/acquaintances in the echo chamber. Number two is something I manage diligently in my Google Reader, quickly purging blogs which start miming other voices. You'd be surprised how many top bloggers actually present "unique" posts that in actuality seem to trailing other lesser known, more original thinkers.

Other Findings

Perhaps more relevant for the general communicator are the base sociometer findings, "that a great deal of human behavior is either automatic or determined by unconscious processes." Many, many people in sales and marketing subscribe (including me) to what can be called a emotional sentimentality to decision making. But there's never been a science to it, instead positioning, messaging theories, sales training or "positivity" memes.

Ever walk out of a meeting where you picked up on a piece of information conveyed to the group that was crucial for a decision, but that teammates missed? These "sales skills" or what others have even called voodoo actually demonstrate a sensitivity to the honest signals people are conveying, according to the sociometer's findings.

"If we think about expert poker players again, we see that they are good at recognizing what patterns of play are unfolding, as well as predicting how likely future draws of cards are favorable." - Alex Pentland.

These signals translate across one-on-one meetings, workgroups, and friend circles all the way to large enterprises. Consequentially, great decision making really represents an unconscious ability to digest and extrapolate the signals across diverse groups of people and situations. The "decision maker" is simply tapping the broader experience of the whole rather than sitting atop an ivory tower.

Honest signals also impact our use of communication toolsets and technologies. Pentland argues many of our tools have yet to be designed for the trues signaling we engage in as human beings, and that hopefully in the future, they will evolve to better harness our idea markets and networked intelligence.

This book is simply fascinating. I could (and may) blog quite a bit more on it. I highly suggest any business leader or communicator who wants bleeding edge intelligence read this book.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on September 11, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book goes through the most recent (about last 5 years) research of Prof. Pentland's group in the MIT Media Lab. It's a quick but extremely engaging read, and in contrast to other pop science books like Freakanomics and Predictably Irrational (both of which are interesting reads), Honest Signals has the scientific details of the experiments that it talks about, in the form of a thorough 50-page appendix. For anyone interested in how sensing technology will change business and the sciences or who's interested in learning how people actually interact with each other, this is a must read.
22 commentsWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2011
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This book belongs - very, very broadly - in the same space as Dan Ariely's Predictably Irrational and to some extent, from an application point of view, Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein's Nudges. The common thread that binds them is an exposition of what lies behind human decisions and how those decisions can be better understood and possibly influenced.

The core thesis of Honest Signals, by MIT Professor Alex Pentland, is that much human communication and decision making is about signals. Signals such as clothes and cars can be deliberate and planned, or influenced by emotion or culture. But not the unconscious or uncontrollable biologically based "honest signalling" which has evolved from ancient primate signalling mechanisms. The stories quoted are from the data collected by the author and his team using a device called a "sociometer" which is described in some detail in Appendix A in the book.

In the first four chapters, Professor Pentland describes: main kinds of social signals; how they can be combined for signalling social roles; how an understanding of the signals and social roles can help read people better; and how group dynamics works and evolves. In the following three chapters, he focuses on how networks, organisations and societies could be explained or could use the proposed thesis.

Books based on science and research are now commonly organised such that a good half of the book comprises explanatory or technical appendices and a bibliography. This book is no exception. The 98 pages of main text, including an epilogue that makes an important point that much current technology is socially ignorant, are followed by 52 pages of appendices rich in research context, 13 pages of notes to appendices, and 14 pages of bibliography. All in all it took about an hour and half to read the book.

One of the limitations of the book is due to the compact treatment. The description of the theoretical premise pitched in the book is interesting enough but the stories felt incomplete, half-told. Quite reminiscent of how an academic thesis includes a section that describes future research possibilities; that section really is an admission of the limitations of the thesis, whether imposed by time or scope definition or something else. The author of a book for popular consumption really doesn't face these limitations hence the dissatisfying experience. There is also not enough time spent on what in real life could be done with a sociometer or the findings of Professor Pentland's research with it.

Usefulness note: The book successfully articulates the concept of primate signalling and provides a quasi-framework that can be put to use in some situations. For instance, it may be handy in several situations including watching politicians and businessmen, and as the author points out, in social and work situations such as negotiation and dating. However if someone then tries too hard to "implement" the framework, it is hardly "honest" signalling and it can all potentially backfire. Recommended for a quick read on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
11 commentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2008
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
I had seen good reviews of this book and was expecting something better. It struck me as being too abstract. It might have been better to merge the main text with the annexes so that more concrete connections could have been made - and some more details of the concrete examples would also have helped.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 26, 2012
Format: Paperback
I've committed the simple notions introduced by the author to heart! In essence; Influence, Mimicry, Activity, and Consistency. This book has been the most useful of many that I've read for interpreting the behavior of people in social settings. He has his finger on the pulse of human communication in a way that's unparalleled by many more auspicious tomes. I would study under this person if I were younger. Read this book and take the author's scientific wisdom to heart, you'll be all the wiser for it.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on March 17, 2013
Format: PaperbackVerified Purchase
This book accurately pinpoints the signals we all see but don't know how to describe or interpret. The information was very helpful toward recognizing these signals, but fell short in telling me where to go from there. I read it all, expecting to eventually learn how to use this insight to my advantage. I felt like I had been given a new tool with no instructions on how to use it.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
on January 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book makes it clear that verbal communication is a recent evolutionary development in humans which has only replaced a modest amount of the communication that our pre-linguistic ancestors used. The fact that we are much more aware of our verbal communication than our other forms of communication shouldn't cause us to underestimate those other forms.
A good deal of the studies mentioned in the book consist of measures of nonverbal communication in, say, speed dating can predict results about as reliably as I'd expect from analyzing the words. These could be criticized for not ruling out the possibility that the nonverbal signals were merely responses to information communicated by words. But at least one study avoids this - entrepreneurs pitching business plans to VCs showed nonverbal signals that were excellent predictors of whether the VCs would accept the business plans, before getting any verbal feedback from the VCs. Even more surprising, investments made by VCs with nonverbal information about the entrepreneurs did better than those evaluated on written-only presentations.
The sociometers used to measure these nonverbal signals have potential to be used in helping group decision making by automatically detecting the beginnings of groupthink or polarization, which should in principle allow leaders to stop those trends before they do much harm. But it's not obvious whether many people will want to admit that analyzing the words of a conversation has as little importance as this research implies.
One of the more interesting methods of communication is for people to mimic each others body language. This is surprisingly effective at creating mutual interest and agreement.
The sociometer data can be of some value for information aggregators by helping to distinguish independent pieces of information from redundant information by detecting which people are likely to have correlated ideas and which are likely to have independent ideas.
I wish this book were mistaken, and that most of human interaction could be analyzed the way we analyze language. But it seems clear that unconscious parts of our minds contain a good deal of our intelligence.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
on January 28, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This a great introduction to some really interesting research in non-verbal social networking. There is a ton of information here that brings up all kinds of follow-up questions. For example, research that suggests style is unconciously valued more over content in venture capital presentations inevitably leads to the question, "if that's what gets funded, what is the success ratio of those firms versus those funded based on the content of their funding proposal?"

I would highly recommend the book to someone that would use it and the research it describes to put social networks in context so the information is more approachable and usable in daily life.

With the potential the author describes, no doubt that will come along soon. Until then, we'll have to read this book, ask questions, and wait for the ideas to be translated to some of the specific topics (negotiation, gossip, presentations, dating, crowdsourcing, and group dynamics) that the research impacts and the author touches on.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
12 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on September 10, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Business management has been ruled by mysticism and superstition for a long time. That ends now. Take a breathless ride with 'Sandy' on a whirlwind tour of the future of social engineering. He introduces new tools and methods that are bringing the stunning power of data-rich, observational science to bear on the heart of human endeavor: the search for influence, money, and a mate. The nerds have finally broken the code... and humanity may never be the same again.
44 commentsWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
     
 
Customers who viewed this also viewed
Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread-The Lessons from a New Science
Social Physics: How Good Ideas Spread-The Lessons from a New Science by Alex (Sandy). Pentland (Hardcover - January 30, 2014)
$22.63

Social Physics: How Social Networks Can Make Us Smarter
Social Physics: How Social Networks Can Make Us Smarter by Alex Pentland (Paperback - January 27, 2015)
$13.60

 
     

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.

Your Recently Viewed Items and Featured Recommendations 
 

After viewing product detail pages, look here to find an easy way to navigate back to pages you are interested in.