Picking Up on Sandy Pentland's "Honest Signals"

Last Updated Nov 19, 2008 5:26 PM EST

honest.jpg Theme: Primal, non-verbal communications techniques, or signals, underlie much of our decision-making and interactions.

Big Think Breakdown: "Honest Signals" is a fascinating new theory of what drives human interaction and decision-making. It strikes another blow to the notion that we are by and large rational creatures, while still saying that our decisions are predictable. It makes a compelling argument for the power of unconscious, primal 'signaling' techniques, such as our vocal emphases, on how others perceive us, individually and in groups, and on how decisions get made.

While it covers some of the same ground as "The Wisdom of Crowds" and "Blink," it goes in a different direction than these books. It also holds out the hope that we will soon have the tools to monitor how we're coming across to others, in real-time.

Checks: Powerful, original research that points to a new understanding of human communications and behavior. Crisply written, with concepts like network intelligence made clear. Novel discussions of problems like groupthink and polarization. A quick read (the heart of the book is 100 pages that can be read in just over an hour).

Peeves: It will frustrate readers to be tantalized with this new way of understanding themselves and those around them, only to find that many of the tools to make it work in organizations aren't there yet.

Quote: "We have focused on four honest signals â€" influence, mimicry, activity and consistency â€" and found that as expected of such signals, they are strongly predictive of future behavior. We know that these behaviors function as signals because they unconsciously change other people's impressions of your attention, trust, interests and focus. Moreover, we know that they are honest signals because they reliably predict people's future actions across a wide range of circumstances."

  • Michael Fitzgerald

    Michael Fitzgerald writes about innovation and other big ideas in business for publications like the New York Times, The Economist, Fast Company, Inc. and CIO. He’s worked as a writer or editor at Red Herring, ZDNet, TechTV and Computerworld, and has received numerous awards as a writer and editor. Most recently, his piece on the hacker collective the l0pht won the 2008 award for best trade piece from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He was also a 2007 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion.