Five Must-Reads for Tackling Complex Problems

Ted Cadsby writes “the following five books are a small sample from a longer list of must-reads, but they have two things in common. First, they forced me to confront how superficial and inadequate my thinking was in assessing different kinds of complex problems. Second, they took the important next step of introducing more sophisticated approaches to tackling complexity, which I have been using ever since.”

The Black Swan, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

…Like any outstanding book, the scope and depth of its ideas cannot be fairly summarized, but his central argument is that we live in two worlds. The first world can be described by basic statistical analysis and a common-sense version of cause-effect relationships; it is a world in which we can make fairly accurate predictions. But the second world behaves in ways that cannot be described in the same straightforward manner, and is not amenable to reliable predictions. We are typically blind to this second world because we force-fit our basic intuitions onto it, based on the naïve assumption that we can understand it the way we understand the first world.

Expert Political Judgment, by Philip Tetlock

…While many of our day-to-day predictions are dependable, an increasing number are not, because they are pitted against increasing complexity in our lives. Tetlock has studied how poor our forecasts are when it comes to making predictions in the domain of economics and politics. His research reveals, in highly analytic and rigorous detail, the ineptitude of the “experts” — in fact he shows that the more expert someone is, the less reliable their predictions tend to be.

The Fifth Discipline, by Peter Senge

…Although Senge’s book was first published over 20 years ago, it remains one of the best explanations of “systems thinking” to analyzing problems. Senge shows how the complex aspects of the world and our lives are much more productively described as systems than as linear cause-and-effect relationships — better as multiple causal factors that influence each other through intricate feedback loops that generate behaviors that are not straightforward.

Emotional Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman

Building on the work of the neuroscientists who pioneered this field, he uncovers one of our most significant cognitive frailties — poor management of emotion — and explores methods of mitigating it. Like Senge’s book, Goleman’s initial edition goes back a number of years; but also like Senge’s, it not only is still current, it is still one of the best overviews of this topic.

The Halo Effect, by Phil Rosenzweig

…brilliantly reveals the flaws in just about every best-selling strategy book of the past three decades. Second, and more importantly, it reveals just how skeptical and sharp-minded today’s business leaders must be in order to avoid falling victim to the latest and greatest guru thinking. Rosenzweig exposes how convincing but faulty the logic is of the brightest and most popular business consultants. Reading his deconstruction of their research and arguments is shocking but liberating — in much the same way that a child experiences the revelation that there is no Tooth Fairy or that magic tricks are just illusions. The book excels at revealing a lesson that cannot be repeated enough: The most persuasive and researched arguments are often the most specious.

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