CM 115: Steven Johnson on Making Decisions that Matter the Most

What if you could make better decisions? Even with the biggest, life-altering choices, such as where to live, who to marry, or whether to start a company?

Steven Johnson, author of the book, Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions that Matter the Most, thinks we often face decisions like this with little to no training and that we could use more tools in our decision-making toolbox.  Steven 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. He is also the host and creator of the PBS and BBC series How We Got to Now.

When it comes to complex decision making, he thinks we can do better, and in this interview about his latest book, Farsighted, he shares strategic approaches to help us get there.

In this interview we discuss:

  • How our most important decisions are complex and life-defining yet our approach to them is often too simple and quick
  • Why breaking complex decisions into steps can help us get started
  • Why you may never use a simple pros and cons list again
  • How mapping all the variables that influence your decision can provide more wisdom
  • Why our decision-making blindspots actually limit the kinds of decisions we make
  • The important role outsiders or non-experts can play in expanding options for decision making
  • Why diverse teams make more intelligent, thoughtful decisions than homogeneous teams
  • The important roles uncertainty and lack of confidence play in making smarter decisions
  • Why we need to take the either-or option off the decision-making table
  • How influence diagrams can help us map who might be influenced or impacted by our decisions
  • How charrettes can ensure we’ll get feedback from diverse stakeholders
  • Why it’s important to speak to group members individually when trying to make a thoughtful decision
  • The important role daydreaming plays in predicting outcomes in decision making
  • The characteristics and practices of the most accurate predictors
  • Why it’s important to map the degree to which we’re uncertain as we make important decisions
  • How an effective decision-making process can help us work our way into important insights that may never have occurred to us otherwise
  • Why we should try value models over pros and cons lists
  • How reading novels provides decision-making simulations that help us practice
  • Why decision making may be one of the top five skills we need to learn

Links to Topics Mentioned in the Podcast


How We Got to Now|PBS

Collect Pond

Pierre Charles L’Enfant

Paul C. Nutt

Highline in NYC

Katherine W. Phillips

Decisive by Dan and Chip Heath

Influence diagram


Simple Rules by Donald Sull

Phillip E. Tetlock

Thomas C. Schelling

Value model

Middlemarch by George Eliot

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Thank you, as well, to my producer and editor, Rob Mancabelli, and to my logo designer, Vanida Vae.



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