It’s a fact of life that if you’re human, you’re bound to make some bad decisions every now and again. The good news is that in many ways decision making is a skill that can be trained like any other. Even better news is that Herrick District Library has a multitude of books in our collection that will have you making better decisions in no-time. And if reading this introduction makes you think “Self-help books? I’ll pass.” I completely understand; but I have done my absolute hardest to screen out any platitude-filled self-aggrandizing books to ensure that these books will provide a cringe-free reading experience. Self-help books (at times deservedly) get a bad rap, but my hope with this book list is to introduce you to some great evidence-based books that can help you make better decisions in the future.
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Art of Judgement by John Adair serves as an excellent primer to the topic of decision-making. While the book is written with business leaders in mind, the information that Adair provides about using sound judgement to make good decisions is applicable to everyone. Adair breaks down the book into two parts: the theory of judgement (decision-making), and the practice of judgement. In doing so, Adair instills in the reader a concrete understanding of what judgement is and how it influences decision-making. After providing this groundwork, Adair shifts into teaching about how to use this new understanding of judgement to be a better decision-maker. Each chapter of Art of Judgement is punctuated with charts, illustrations, and summaries that help drive home the key-points and do an excellent job in distilling Adair’s teaching.
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While this book definitely straddles the line between evidence-based advice and the type of self-help platitudes that I am trying to avoid on in this post, Fear of Missing Out is on the whole a solid book that can help the reader make better decisions. Patrick McGinnis, creator of the word “FOMO” and “FOBO” (Fear of a Better Option), explains in Fear of Missing Out that the feeling of anxiety that we often get when having to make difficult decisions is often what leads to making the wrong decisions (or no decision at all). McGinnis explains that by becoming free of FOMO and FOBO, the reader is able to put to rest the difficulties that some may feel when they are called on to make a decision. So, how does someone do that? That is the exact question that McGinnis answers in Fear of Missing Out.
Ex-CIA and FBI analyst Philip Mudd flips conventional decision-making on its head in The HEAD Game. HEAD, an acronym made by Mudd to describe his process of high efficiency analytic decision-making, works by asking the user to forego searching through piles of data to help them make a decision and instead focuses on examining the question being asked and the motives behind why the question is asked in the first place. Mudd explains that by refining the question you have to make a decision about by examining “drivers” (the different characteristics that make up the decision) rather than sifting through all possible answers, decisions will not only be made quicker, but with better results.
Give Yourself a Nudge by Ralph Keeney builds off of the research and concepts created by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein in another book about decision making named Nudge. In Nudge, Thaler and Sunstein explain that choices are often made based on how the decision is described and how alternatives are presented and perceived. The concepts in Nudge were based off of the way people in positions of authority can influence the decisions of those under them; however, in Give Yourself a Nudge, Keeney applies these same decision-making techniques at the micro-level. In doing so, Keeney demonstrates that sometimes in order to make better decision, you need to ask better questions. How to best go about asking better questions is what lies at the heart of Give Yourself a Nudge.
With the title Thinking in Bets, it would be fair to assume this is a book about poker; but, as author Annie Duke makes crystal clear in the preface, Thinking in Bets isn’t about poker. While Thinking in Bets references poker, it isn’t so much a poker book as it is a decision book that uses the author’s knowledge of poker and psychology to explain how to make decisions when you don’t have all the information. Duke is the perfect person to draw comparisons between poker and the psychology of decision-making. In the academic field, Duke achieved a National Science Foundation fellowship during her doctoral course work before pursuing a career in professional poker. As a professional poker play, Duke won multiple high-level poker tournaments (including the World Series of Poker Tournament of Champions) and amassed over $4,000,000 in winnings. To Duke, poker is just another laboratory to study decision-making skills.
How Good People Make Tough Choices
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While a little bit older than some of the entries on this list, How Good People Make Tough Choices has some great advice on how to make difficult decisions when both options are good. Throughout How Good People Make Tough Choices, author Rushworth Kidder explains that having a solid understanding of ethics and morality can help guide decision-making when things get rough. Now if you’re thinking “ethics and morality? No thanks,” I get it; but what Kidder really means is that in order to make decisions that you won’t come regret, you need to know what makes you tick and what values drive you. Kidder explains that once you know that, you can begin to make ethically sound and morally consistent decisions that you will be proud to attach your name to.
How do we overcome the common faults in our decision-making and enable better choices in any situation? The answer lies in more conscious and intentional decision design. The Elements of Choice offers a comprehensive, systematic guide to creating effective choice architectures, the environments in which we make decisions. The designers of decisions need to consider all the elements involved in presenting a choice: how many options to offer, how to present those options, how to account for our natural cognitive shortcuts, and much more. Author Eric J. Johnson draws on his original studies and extensive work in business and public policy and synthesizes the latest research in the field to reveal how the structure of choices affects outcomes. This book provides the tools you need to guide anyone (including yourself) to the right decision.
[Adapted from the publisher’s website]
So often in life, we get stuck in a cycle of response. We put out fires. We deal with emergencies. We stay downstream, handling one problem after another, but we never make our way upstream to fix the systems that caused the problems. Cops chase robbers, and doctors treat patients with chronic diseases, and call-center reps address customer complaints. But crime and chronic disease and customer complaints are preventable! So why do our efforts skew so heavily toward reaction rather than prevention? Upstream explores the psychological forces that push us downstream—including “problem blindness,” which can leave us oblivious to serious problems in our midst. Upstream delivers practical solutions for preventing problems rather than simply reacting to them. How many problems in our lives and in society are we tolerating simply because we’ve forgotten that we can fix them? Upstream helps the reader to look at these problems and fix them, rather than having to make difficult decisions on how to respond to them in the future.
[Adapted from the publisher’s website]
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In Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman, psychologist and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics, takes us on a groundbreaking tour of the mind and explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Why we make the choices that we do can be understood only by knowing how the two systems shape our judgments and decisions. Throughout Thinking, Fast and Slow Kahneman reveals where we can and cannot trust our intuitions and how we can tap into the benefits of slow thinking. By offering insights into how choices are made in both our business and our personal lives, Kahneman demonstrates how we can use different techniques to guard against the mental glitches that often get us into trouble and cause us to make bad decisions.
[Adapted from the publisher’s website]