The book "Everything is obvious" from Duncan Watts is part of a small collection of books that everybody need to read in order to have a greater understanding about the world around us.
It is a book that you end up with the feeling that your perception of things will never be the same again.
That said, it should be noted that there is not a book to read easily. It contains sections that you must read and reread to get the whole sense.
The book is a kind of advanced "The Drunkard's Walk" (Leonard Mlodinow). In a few lines, one can say that the book states:
* You think that learn a lot from the experience and history, but it is kind of illusion, most of the times. The difference between facts and perceptions constitute an abyss of distortions.
* Our common sense, good for the life of the day-to-day, can be disastrous to evaluate more complex events.
* The complexity of the interaction between individuals in a group is large and the use of shortcuts to navigate this world represents a gross simplification. The riot story from Mark Granovettter is fascinating. It shows that just one person can change the entire course of events. Then it is amusing to read the different opinions because the riot broke out in one place and not in the other.
The book suggests a number of strategies to deal with this complexity: research, experiments, scenarios, Flexible Strategy (Raynor), quick response to this (Zara, Just in Time), crowdsourcing (Innocentive, Turk), etc.
Duncan has conducted incredible experiments. For example, Music Labs was an experience of music download site, where he has studied the influence of others' opinions on the success or failure of songs. This experiment involved 30 000 people and 46 songs! He divides people in 9 groups, 8 knew the songs that other people downloaded and 1 group was composed of isolated people to measure song quality without peer influence. In each group there was distinct hits and distinct "failed-to-chart songs, with only some correlation with "independent" quality!
The author criticizes technocrats and politicians who have opinions about everything and assumptions of how things work. He gives many examples showing that the average quality of forecasts, policies and practices leave much to be desired.
In line with the "Halo Effect" (Phil Rosenweig), the author questions the role of sacred icons like Steve Jobs, questioning the heroic way that the media deals with famous leaders of the corporate world, ignoring the role of chance, the market and the rest of team. The success and failure when judged post-factum are totally biased, said the author, when he compares mini-disk and Betamax from Sony (Failure) vs. iPod and iPhone (Success)
Like Leonard Mlodinow, Duncan Watts is a PHD physics that has taken the path of human sciences. However, Mlodinow continues working in physics and Duncan now is dedicated to Sociology. His current "laboratory" is Yahoo!