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Making better decisions with Steven Johnson at the Intellectual Forum

Non-fiction writer and TV presenter Steven Johnson gave a thought-provoking talk on making better decisions at a packed Intellectual Forum event.

Johnson, the bestselling author of books including WonderlandWhere Good Ideas Come From, and Farsighted, delved into what we know about how we can make better choices when they matter the most. Drawing on lessons from cognitive science, military strategy, literature and more, he conveyed techniques for approaching decision making, emphasising the importance of letting the mind wander in an unstructured way.

Julian Huppert, Director of the Intellectual Forum, said of the evening: "Steven gave an inspiring talk which applies to both the personal decisions that we make, as well as to companies or goverments. Drawing on historical examples from Darwin onwards in his talk, it was fantastic to have him with us".

Meanwhile, Oliver Hussick, a Cambridge local, said: “I think it really helps crystallise the importance of decision making as a process, and not just a necessary obstacle before implementing decisions. It’s helpful for me to use some of Steven’s examples to highlight to clients how important it is that we make good, well thought out, and farsighted decisions, consider best and worst case scenarios equally, and share them with diverse audiences to help with our own personal blind spots”.

Johnson even suggested a big shift in our curriculum: developing classes on decision making for students both in compulsory and higher education. He suggested that decision making should be a required class for 16 and 17 year old students, pointing out that it’s a transferrable skill that takes you beyond the formal studies into something applicable in the professional and personal parts of your life. He pondered what this might look like:  "....to me this actually is a version of a civics class that would train you to for the kinds of choices you would have to make as a member of a society, but that would also be useful for all other things".

Sarah Steele, Deputy Director of the Intellectual Forum, commented: "Johnson's proposals really challenged us to think about what children should be learning, something that we also recently discussed at a recent Forum cohosted event and at the Yidan Prize Conference last year. These are big issues for the future. Making better decisions is really important. How we trust AI to help us with these decisions was another take home from his talk. I'm really excited to pick this up next week at our Rustat Conference on AI and Big Data. It was really thought-provoking stuff".

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