I'm thrilled that Jonah Lehrer will be one of our keynote speakers this year at Discovery Summit, our analytics conference. If you listen to National Public Radio, you may have heard him on Radiolab or Marketplace. His articles have been published in prominent publications, such as Wired, Scientific American Mind, The New Yorker, Nature and Seed -- as well as top national newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post. And he has written the books How We Decide and Proust Was a Neuroscientist. I'm nearly finished reading How We Decide and find his discussions on the decision-making functions of the human brain both accessible and fascinating.
Discovery Summit attendees will get a copy of How We Decide and a chance to meet the author at a book signing following his speech -- so join us in Denver in September. To help you get a better sense of Jonah, I recently sent him some questions via email. Here are his answers:
You’ve given a lot of speeches or talks. Tell me about one you particularly enjoyed and what made it so memorable.
What I most enjoy about public speaking is getting the chance to meet new people. In many instances, the connections I've made at various conferences have informed my writing. For instance, I was recently at a decision-making seminar at the University of Toronto, making small talk over cocktails, when a professor casually mentioned that a friend of his from high school had cracked the Ontario lottery. At first, I was incredulous -- I assumed scratch lottery tickets were impregnable. But after following up on the story, I realized that it was even better than I'd hoped. That conversation eventually became a feature article in Wired about serious security flaws in the lottery industry.
For me, the speech is just an excuse to network, to expose myself to viewpoints and ideas that I'd never encounter if I were sitting at my desk.
You will be a keynote speaker at Discovery Summit, which focuses on analytics. How did you discover the importance of analytics?
One of the great themes of modern neuroscience is that the brain is full of short-cuts and biases, such as loss-aversion and anchoring, that lead us to make serious decision-making mistakes. This is where analytics prove essential: Thanks to advances in technology, we can now aggregate vast amounts of data and process that data with all sorts of useful statistical filters. These analytic algorithms allow us to compensate for the blind spots of the brain, to escape those ancient instincts that might lead us astray. As a result, we aren't forced to make the same mistakes that we've always made before.
What kinds of books and blogs do you like to read and why?
I try to read as widely as possible, seeking out voices that I might disagree with and venturing into fields that I know nothing about. (At the moment, I'm reading a book on WWII, macroeconomics and a collection of essays on photography.) I'm also a novel junkie. I'm pretty obsessed with my Kindle.
What are the big insights you hope readers take away from your book How We Decide?
That we need to do a better job of thinking about thinking. The mind is a lot like a Swiss Army Knife -- it's stuffed full of all these different mental tools, each of which is very well-suited to particular tasks. The best decision-makers ensure that they're using the right tool at the right time.
What are you busy working on these days?
I'm finishing up my next book, which is about the science of creativity. It's called IMAGINE, and it will be out in the spring of 2012.