Undercover Friday 7
You might have missed…
“Fifty Things That Made the Modern Economy” is airing on BBC Radio 4 in a run of 15 daily programmes just after noon. (This project has been such fun to work on.) Loyal listeners will already be subscribing to the podcast, however – and if you’re enjoying it, please spread the word. I meet a lot of “More or Less” listeners who aren’t aware that “Fifty Things” exists.
Given the horrific attack in London yesterday, I found myself revisiting a piece I wrote about the real costs of terrorism. These attacks are always so appalling; we need to remind ourselves that that’s by design. They’re meant to appal us and they are aimed at provoking an over-reaction.
I’ve had a productive reading week this week.
I enjoyed Richard Nisbett’s Mindware (UK) (US) – it’s a good overview of various thinking tools and traps such as hindsight bias, dialectical reasoning, various statistical errors and techniques. However it does feel pretty familiar if you enjoy this sort of thing; I was also struck by how the fact that Nisbett, writing in 2015, cites a number of psychological studies that have since failed to replicate. A sign of the times in social psychology?
My praise for Caroline Webb’s How To Have A Good Day (UK) (US) is similarly tempered by the fact that again, some of this stuff is familiar and some of this stuff does not replicate. Still, I found it a very valuable book – I had a meeting this week that would have gone very badly but instead ended up going very well, and Webb deserves all the credit for that. She does a great job of taking familiar insights from psychology and economics, and turning them into practical nuggets of advice. Bravo.
Even better is Designing Your Life by Burnett and Evans (UK) (US). I don’t even know why I picked up this book, to be honest. It would have come in very handy when I was 19, or 23, or 29, and staring down the barrel of painful life and career decisions. Right now I’m lucky enough to have a life and career where no big changes seem needed. And yet – the book was still useful. And I’ve already handed copies to two friends contemplating a career change. It’s really a very useful and fresh take on thinking about careers, creativity, family and work-life balance. Very, very good.
Oh – and finally finally, I recently had the chance to play Roll For The Galaxy. Lots of fun – and while a little complex for younger children they do love the buckets of dice. Check it out. (UK) (US) – or my local store Gameskeeper.
My “Undercover Economist” column has moved from the FT Magazine to the Saturday FT newspaper. If you like to read online, it’s here – and you can click “Add to My FT” to be updated whenever it appears. (I’ll continue to post my writing on timharford.com after a delay.) This week’s column contrasts two different types of innovation:
The idea that developed economies can A/B test their way back to brisk productivity growth is a seductive one. An alternative view is that what’s really lacking is a different kind of innovation: the long shot. Unlike marginal gains, long shots usually fail, but can pay off spectacularly enough to overlook 100 failures. The marginal gain is a heated pair of overshorts, the long shot is the Fosbury Flop. If the marginal gain is a text message nudging you to finish a course of antibiotics, the long shot is the development of penicillin. Marginal gains give us zippier web pages; long shots gave us the internet.
FT subscribers can read the whole thing here.