Read the F***ing Book

I just finished Superforecasting: the Art and Science of Prediction, which is excellent. For me, easily one of the best books of the year.

One of the main themes of the book is that the best way to begin understanding a problem is to start with an “outside” view; that is, don’t start with the particulars of your situation. Instead, start with the data and research for all such similar situations.

Want to understand if performance pay works? Don’t begin by thinking about how you really want Johnny and Jane in HR to perform better. Rather, start by reading the research and data on performance pay. Once you’ve done that, then try and understand how the particulars of your situation might cause you to deviate from general trends.

Another example: want to make a prediction whether or not the Jones family has a pet? Don’t start by thinking about the Jones family, start by looking at what percentage of families in the United States have a pet. Then move up or down on this baseline based on the particulars.

This idea is incredibly important, very simple, and dovetails with some recent experiences.

So many times I’m talking to people and they are discussing their challenges and all I’m thinking is: “why didn’t you read the f***ing book?”

I’m thinking this because: (1) their problem is not unique (2) there is a vast literature on the issue and (3) implementing what the research says would probably solve 80% of the problem.

Moreover, in my recent online debate with Jay Greene, I realized that I’d made a few assumptions without being as familiar as I needed to be with the literature on the correlation between achievement growth, attainment, and life outcomes. Now, even once I did catch-up, Jay and I still had disagreements, but I was much better able to narrow down on the open questions after I had read the f***ing book.

More broadly, there are very good f***ing books on how to build organizational culture, how to develop a sound strategy, how to set strong goals, etc. and yet so many people continue to fail miserably in doing these activities.

Yes, reading the f***ing book might not make you excellent, but it probably will prevent you from making easily avoidable mistakes.

I’ve made countless mistakes because I didn’t take the time to read the f***ing book.

So why do we keep failing to read the f***ing book?

Or even after we read the f***ing book why do we fail to implement what it says?

I don’t know.

But before I offer some guesses, I’m going to see if there’s a f***ing book on this very issue.

Stay tuned.

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