Making Complex Decisions: A Masterclass with Lawrence Summers

Big Think Edge presents a 6-part workshop with accomplished economist Lawrence Summers, who explains the theory and practice of rational thinking in order to draw conclusions and make smart decisions.

"I suspect that when the history is written 200 years from now, it will emerge that something very important happened in human thinking during the time when we were alive, and that is that we are becoming rational, analytical and data-driven in a far wider range of activity than we ever have been before." [Harvard]

Economist Lawrence Summers said those words 12 years ago when he was President of Harvard. What must have sounded like an observation then sounds downright prophetic now. The first fifteen years of the 21st century have seen unprecedented shifts in how humans analyze and process information, and not just in an esoteric or academic way. This change is visible in practice. You can see its effects on business, sports, education, and medicine, to name just a few.

Former industry barometers not steeped in facts-based analysis are going the way of the dodo. We're making decisions more with our heads and less with our guts. Whether that's good or bad is in the eye of the beholder. What's undeniable is the positive relationship data-driven analysis has with overall efficiency. Customers are being better served. Competitors are more effectively tracking market inefficiencies. Educational and medical deficiencies are being more widely diagnosed and addressed.

And it can all be attributed to the rational thinking revolution recognized by Lawrence Summers.

Today, a deluge of available data has accelerated the pace of change to such a degree that an analytics-based brand of decision-making has become imperative to remain competitive in any and all industries. But making sound decisions isn't as as simple as popping numbers into a machine and acting on what it spits out. Success in this realm requires a thorough understanding of rational theory, a keen evaluative ability, and the wherewithal to spot truth amidst the noise. 

Here at Big Think, we're excited to offer all of that from a man who knows a thing or two about rational thinking. Making Complex Decisions: A Masterclass with Lawrence Summers is available only through Big Think Edge.

The 6-part workshop is as follows:

Part 1: Embracing Truth
Part 2: General Orientation
Part 3: A Scientific Method
Part 4: Guiding Principles
Part 5: Evaluation
Part 6: Special Exigencies

Summers draws from the decision-making skills he developed throughout his career as President of Harvard, Secretary of the Treasury, and Director of the White House U.S. National Economic Council. Not only does he walk through the best ways to make complex decisions, Summers explains the nitty-gritty of why his espoused strategies are the proven best courses of action. It doesn't matter what kinds of decisions you're making -- all that matters is you're making them the best way possible. Summers knows how to put you on that course.

"For practical purposes, for decision makers, if you’re deciding whether to introduce a new product, you’re deciding whether to create a new division of your company, you’re deciding the right person to hire -- for those kinds of decisions it’s important to understand what is true and to understand how the world works so that you can judge the consequences of alternative courses of action as accurately as possible.

And what’s essential is not to confuse what one would like to be true with what, in fact, is true."

To learn more, be sure to visit Big Think Edge.

Study: 50% of people pursuing science careers in academia will drop out after 5 years

That's a sharp increase from the 1960s when it took the same share of scientists an average of 35 years to drop out of academia.

Surprising Science
  • The study tracked the careers of more than 100,000 scientists over 50 years.
  • The results showed career lifespans are shrinking, and fewer scientists are getting credited as the lead author on scientific papers.
  • Scientists are still pursuing careers in the private sector, however there are key differences between research conducted in academia and industry.
Keep reading Show less

The silent Chinese propaganda in Hollywood films

China's rise has necessitated a global PR push. It includes influencing how the movies you watch depict China.

President Xi Jinping and Brad Pitt in World War Z. (Image: Big Think/Getty)
Politics & Current Affairs
  • China will soon overtake the U.S. as the world's largest market for films, and it is using that fact to influence how it is depicted by Hollywood.
  • While Chinese investors have been interested in buying shares of studios for a while, the real power lies in deciding which movies get into China at all.
  • The influence is often subtle, but may have already derailed a few careers in the name of politics.
Keep reading Show less

New ‘microneedle patch’ could help heart attack patients regrow tissue

The bold technique involves surgically implanting a so-called microneedle patch directly onto the heart.

Red human heart against a yellow background (Getty Images)
Surprising Science
  • Heart attacks leave scar tissue on the heart, which can reduce the organ's ability to pump blood throughout the body.
  • The microneedle patch aims to deliver therapeutic cells directly to the damaged tissue.
  • It hasn't been tested on humans yet, but the method has shown promising signs in research on animals.
Keep reading Show less