As you march through or dance around in this book, you'll see that some of the entries describe the patterns of the world. Nicholas Christakis is one of several of scholars to emphasize that many things in the world have properties not present in their parts. They cannot be understood simply by taking them apart; you have to observe the interactions of the whole. Stephon Alexander is one of two writers (appropriately) to emphasize the dualities found in the world. Just as an electron has both wave-like and particle-like properties, so many things can have two sets of characteristics simultaneously. Clay Shirky emphasizes that while we often imagine bell curves everywhere, in fact the phenomena of the world are often best described by the Pareto Principle. Things are often skewed radically toward the top of any distribution. Twenty percent of the employees in any company do most of the work, and the top 20 percent within that 20 percent do most of that group's work. As you read through the entries that seek to understand patterns in the world, you'll run across a few amazing facts. For example, I didn't know that twice as many people in India have access to cell phones as latrines. But most of the essays in the book are about metacognition. They consist of thinking about how we think. I was struck by Daniel Kahneman's essay on the Focusing Illusion, by Paul Saffo's essay on the Time Span Illusion, by John McWhorter's essay on Path Dependence, and Evgeny Morozov's essay on the Einstellung Effect, among many others. If you lead an organization, or have the sort of job that demands that you think about the world, these tools are like magic hammers. They will help you, now and through life, to see the world better, and to see your own biases more accurately.
But I do want to emphasize one final thing. These researchers are giving us tools for thinking. It sounds utilitarian and it is. But tucked in the nooks and crannies of this book there are insights about the intimate world, about the realms of emotion and spirit. There are insights about what sort of creatures we are. Some of these are not all that uplifting. Gloria Origgi writes about Kakonomics, our preference for low-quality outcomes. But Roger Highfield, Jonathan Haidt, and others write about the “snuggle for existence”: the fact that evolution is not only about competition, but profoundly about cooperation and even altruism. Haidt says wittily that we are the giraffes of altruism. There is something for the poetic side of your nature, as well as the prosaic.