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Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer Kindle Edition

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"Mr. Watts, a former sociology professor and physicist who is now a researcher for Yahoo, has written a fascinating book that ranges through psychology, economics, marketing and the science of social networks." - "The Wall Street Journal" "It's about time a sociologist wrote an amazing and accessible book for a non-specialist audience. Everything Is Obvious*: Once You Know the Answer by Duncan J. Watts is that amazing book." - "Inside Higher Ed" "In this bold thesis, renowned network scientist Duncan J. Watts exposes the complex mechanics of judgement and proposes a radical new way of thinking about human behaviour."-- Scott Wilson, The Fringe Magazine "Common sense is a kind of bespoke make-believe, and we can no more use it to scientifically explain the workings of the social world than we can use a hammer to understand mollusks." -- Nicholas Christakis, The New York Times """Everything is Obvious"" is engagingly writ


Why is the Mona Lisa the most famous painting in the world? Why did Facebook succeed when other social networking sites failed? Did the surge in Iraq really lead to less violence? How much can CEO’s impact the performance of their companies? And does higher pay incentivize people to work hard?

If you think the answers to these questions are a matter of common sense, think again. As sociologist and network science pioneer Duncan Watts explains in this provocative book, the explanations that we give for the outcomes that we observe in life—explanation that seem obvious once we know the answer—are less useful than they seem.

Drawing on the latest scientific research, along with a wealth of historical and contemporary examples, Watts shows how common sense reasoning and history conspire to mislead us into believing that we understand more about the world of human behavior than we do; and in turn, why attempts to predict, manage, or manipulate social and economic systems so often go awry.

It seems obvious, for example, that people respond to incentives; yet policy makers and managers alike frequently fail to anticipate how people will respond to the incentives they create. Social trends often seem to have been driven by certain influential people; yet marketers have been unable to identify these “influencers” in advance. And although successful products or companies always seem in retrospect to have succeeded because of their unique qualities, predicting the qualities of the next hit product or hot company is notoriously difficult even for experienced professionals.

Only by understanding how and when common sense fails, Watts argues, can we improve how we plan for the future, as well as understand the present—an argument that has important implications in politics, business, and marketing, as well as in science and everyday life.


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Wir Menschen denken in Geschichten - wir gehen nämlich davon aus, dass alles Vergangene genau so hätte passieren müssen und die Ereignisse unseres Lebens logisch verknüpft sind. Dass das selten der Fall ist, lernen Sie in diesem Buch. Stellenweise etwas langatmig, aber trotzdem lesenswert!
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Die hilfreichsten Kundenrezensionen auf (beta) HASH(0xa28619e4) von 5 Sternen 113 Rezensionen
119 von 135 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
HASH(0xa291b8f4) von 5 Sternen If Only This Were Always True 7. Juni 2011
Von L. King - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
This is a personal review - if you haven't come across similar material I think it's a very recommendable read.

I'm a big fan of Duncan Watts' work on Small Worlds, but I did not get as much as I would have liked from his latest pop-sci offering. Some of the material I found new, such as Grannovetter's intriguing threshold hypothesis as to why some mobs gel into mass action and others do not, and he had a very good discussion on the use of online networked communities as social science laboratories, with some interesting results generated from twitter, Facebook and email. And, as is necessary for this kind of a book, there are a number of illustrative anecdotes, such as why BetaMax and Discman failed in the market, but iPod succeeded or Amazon's "Mechanical Turk" - which I just tried out after reading the book, or Zara's approach to marketing. If nothing else it makes for good entertainment and fodder for conversation.

However much of the book hinges around the nature of workable explanations, and I'm surprised that in his wanderings Watts did not come across Herbert Simon's well known The Sciences of the Artificial and his key notion of "satisficing" (we tend to stop at explanations that work sufficiently well, not those that are necessarily true); or the idea of "magical thinking" in allegedly primitive societies; or Donald Norman's The Psychology Of Everyday Things, which looks at the relationship between internal models vs the real world, all of which would have added greater depth to the themes Watts was pursuing.

Then there's the catchy title. If you read Watts carefully one finds that knowing the answer has the effect of increasing the one's confidence in a particular explanation, but that doesn't necessarily make things obvious, in particular when the material requires mathematics, statistics and long chains of reasoning. There's some good material on rational choice but Dan Arielly (who gave the book a good review on the back cover) and John Paulos I've found have done better. Nor does he confront conspiracy theorists, where the answer is used to select the "facts".

So yes, it's enjoyable, but I was hoping for more original results from Watts own work. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
103 von 124 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
HASH(0xa2925ccc) von 5 Sternen Reasons to get excited about sociology 1. Januar 2011
Von Malvin - Veröffentlicht auf
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"Everything is Obvious" by Dr. Duncan J. Watts suggests that we are on the brink of a new age of social scientific discovery with profound implications for business, politics and culture. Dr. Watts brings an interesting and rare critical discipline to the soft science of sociology due to his PhD's in the hard sciences of theoretical and applied mechanics. Dr. Watts shares insights gained from his academic and professional experiences including his role as a principal research scientist at Yahoo! Research. Accessibly written for general interest readers, Dr. Watts' enlightening book gives us many good reasons to get excited about sociology.

Although Dr. Watts rarely acknolwedges it, his book represents an implicit refutation of Malcolm Gladwell's pseudo-scientific The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference. Dr. Watts charges Mr. Gladwell with employing an obvious kind of circular logic where a particular social, cultural or artistic phenomenon is heralded simply due to the fact of its success (while ignoring how dozens of others that possessed the same attributes failed). In fact, Dr. Watts argues that answers to the riddles of history are usually not well understood in the moment; it is only with the benefit of hindsight that historians can piece together the relevant factors that might have produced noteworthy events. For example, Dr. Watts argues that Paul Revere was probably no less influential than the thousands of others who branched out to spread the news of the impending British approach; to the extent that the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow might have assigned credit to a single person from the chaos of a complex event, one is engaged in the art of storytelling, not science.

Dr. Watts engages us by discussing a number of case studies that frequently challenge the conventional wisdom. For example, Dr. Watts debunks the idea that the presence of key individuals like Kevin Bacon are necessary to bridge six degrees of social separation. Using Twitter to test the Kevin Bacon hypothesis, Dr. Watts found that ordinary people were able to make all of the necessary connections to deliver messages to specific individuals located in various countries around the world. While common sense but erroneous shorthand constructs such as the Kevin Bacon hypothesis might be helpful in bringing comfort and order to individuals living in a complex world, Dr. Watts contends that together we must do better if we wish to engage in meaningful social planning and decision making.

Why should we care about any of this? For one, Dr. Watts' analysis reframes how we might view matters of social equity. As his experiments frequently prove, the libertarian philosophy makes little sense in a world that is highly dependent on shared responsibilities and mutual interactions; with implications in the way we might collectively decide how to reward the labors of corporate CEOs and bankers on the one hand, and ordinary workers on the other. For another, Dr. Watts demonstrates the validity of both top-down and bottom-up perspectives on matters of public policy. As the ability to harvest and analyze data from search engines like Google and Yahoo! as well as social networking sites such as Facebook continues to improve, Dr. Watts believes that social scientists will be better able to tap the wisdom of local communities to find solutions to global problems. In this manner, Dr. Watts hopes that sound science can do more than simply help motion picture studios better predict the potential box office for a film in a specific community; rather, he hopes that the public will attain the knowledge it needs to demand social justice.

I highly recommend this intriguing and important book to everyone.
29 von 37 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
HASH(0xa29273b4) von 5 Sternen Was René Descartes Correct? - We Know Nothing 26. Januar 2011
Von James East - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts ( Was ist das? )
Though I am not necessarily a René Descartes fan, reading `In Everything is Obvious' one surely comes away realizing that we really do not know much. That is only after something has become fact do we really know it. Of course this sounds very logical and even `Common Sense', but the author reminds us throughout the book that common sense has a remarkable knack for peppering over complexity. Complexity with respect to emergent conditions, or results, because the behavior of the whole can not be easily related to the behavior of the parts.

In the chapter `History Is Not Such a Good Teacher After All`, the author reminds us that history is actually just a one-off event. There could be many different historical facts but we only know of the one. This is pointed out in the discussion of creeping determinism where we pay less attention than we should to things that did not happen. For example, since we are mostly concerned with success, it seems pointless, or uninteresting, to worry about the absence of success.

To vividly point this creeping determinism, or `abstract blindness' I am reminded of the WWII bombers that returned from German bomb runs. The ones that returned were all shot-up and full of holes. The General asked, `what can we do to protect the bombers'? A smart mathmatican said put extra armor where there are "no" holes. Where There are No Holes! When looked thru the lens of abstract blindness, one realizes that the bombers that did not return were the ones with holes in them that no one could see.

All in a good book that starts out fast but tapers off about halfway thru to the end as it ventures into, though appropriate, government planning that results in unintended consequences of common sense ideas.
11 von 14 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
HASH(0xa2927408) von 5 Sternen Why is explanation so easy and prediction so hard? 28. Februar 2011
Von Jessica Weissman - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe Vine Kundenrezension eines kostenfreien Produkts ( Was ist das? )
Hindsight is 20-20. Everyone knows that, but disregards it. Predictions are difficult and likely to be inaccurate (except in trivial areas like weather and traffic). But everyone can explain the event in retrospect. It's obvious.

Common sense furnishes standard explanations of lots of things, and we tell ourselves stories (or the news tells us stories) to explain past events. But what if those obvious explanations are wrong? There's no way to validate most of them, and alternate explanations are easy to come up with once you think about it. No matter who won the Best Actor oscar, it's easy to explain. But if one of the other actors won, that explanation would make just as much sense.

Duncan has written a wonderful book exploring this paradox. He's great on exposing the problem. His examples are fascinating and original - no retreads of the same old behavioral economics insights here.

What to do about it? I don't know, and neither does Duncan. Alas. The condition is much easier to describe than to ameliorate. Don't expect prediction to get more accurate soon, and don't expect any policy solutions either.

But do read this well-written and insightful book. It may help you avoid a few of the more obvious mental traps, and to examine the conventional wisdom and explanations more carefully.
3 von 3 Kunden fanden die folgende Rezension hilfreich
HASH(0xa29273fc) von 5 Sternen Only One Quarrel... 26. August 2011
Von J. Slott - Veröffentlicht auf
Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
"Everything Is Obvious..." is an incredibly worthwhile read. I intend to refer it to as many friends and acquaintances as I can gather.
That being said, I must admit one profound disagreement.
In one of the later chapters, Mr. Watts seem to demonstrate sympathy for former New York police officer Joseph Gray after his five-to-fifteen year sentencing for second-degree manslaughter, which was passed upon him after his drunk driving resulted in the deaths of three people. He claims that the man was more a victim of bad luck and that one should hesitate before applauding the sentence when considering how many other drunk drivers "have gotten away with it."
Mr. Watts, sir, you just don't get it.
The issue isn't one of "getting away with it" or bad luck. Drunk-driving isn't an offense for philosophical or political reasons: when one is intoxicated, his physical and mental capacities are measurably impaired. That's not opinion or prejudice; it's fact. If one could consume a case of beer with no more injury to his faculties than if he were to down a case of 7-Up, there wouldn't be a problem. It's not the drunkenness that's the issue; it's the effects of the drunkenness.
One of the major points of this book is that common sense does not work in complex, multi-faceted and distant situations. Its merits come into play only when assessing simple, closer-to-home episodes.
What can be a better example of the proper use of applying common sense than not allowing intoxicated people from maneuvering multi-ton machines in the midst of dozens of other people operating similar machinery, or just simply walking?
Driving an automobile is not a right; it's a privilege. One has to prove him or herself responsible enough to deserve such a license.
I would even claim that getting intoxicated is not a right; it's also should be regarded as a privilege. And society does not owe anyone the benefit of the doubt when he or she gets loaded.
The laws against drunk-driving are not arcane ones. They have been openly around for decades. Mr. Gray, himself, probably handed out tickets to intoxicated people.
Who knows how many times Mr. Gray had previously "gotten away with it", driven a car while stoned and somehow made it to his destination without any mishap?
It was the last time, unfortunately, that resulted in the deaths of three innocent individuals and the emotional wreckage of a husband and father.
Mr. Gray is not a victim of anything; he deliberately drank himself into a stupor, he deliberately put himself behind the wheel of a car, and then he deliberately drove it out. The fact that other people do likewise yet avoid gross mishaps is irrelevant.
Personally, I would have handed the scoundrel a thirty-year sentence.
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