- Paperback: 256 pages
- Publisher: Crown Business; Reprint edition (5 March 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0767908864
- ISBN-13: 978-0767908863
- Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 1.4 x 20.3 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #3,10,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions Paperback – 5 Mar 2002
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"In Smart Choices, John Hammond, Ralph Keeney, and Howard Raiffa tell us in plain language how to make optimal decisions in our everyday lives. They combine one hundred collective years of experience in an exceptional resource that takes the reader step-by-step through problem formulation and final decision." –Jerome P. Kassirer, editor-in-chief, New England Journal of Medicine
"Throughout Smart Choices, Hammond, Keeney, and Raiffa provide valuable insight and guidance on the inevitable and ongoing negotiation with yourself when facing a difficult decision. By following their effective, systematic process, anyone can make important personal or business decisions with greater clarity, confidence, and efficiency." –Stephen J. Hemsley, former head of Strategy, Technology, and Operating Professional Service Lines, Arthur Andersen
From the Inside Flap
Where should I live?
Is it time to switch careers?
What is the best course of action for me?
Decisions shape our experiences, from choosing which job offer to accept, to buying the right car, to selecting a good accountant. How do we know which choice is the smart one? How can we be consistent and confident in our decisions? In this book from the three leading authorities on decision-making, readers learn how to approach all types of decisions with a simple set of skills developed by professors from Harvard, MIT, and the University of Southern California.
Combining solid research with common sense and practical experience, this user-friendly guide shows readers how to assess deep-seated objectives, create a comprehensive set of alternatives, determine likely consequences, make tradeoffs, and grapple with uncertainty. Not only will readers learn how to make decisions, they will learn how to make the smartest decisions. For anyone caught at a confusing crossroad?whether you?re choosing between mutual funds or deciding where to retire?the Smart Choices program will improve your decision-making abilities immediately, and make your life more rewarding and fulfilling.
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
If you train yourself to be proactive about your decisions, you will be able to think critically and offer valid reasons for your decisions. Honestly, there is some great advice in it and will help one make better decisions. For me, I tended to skip through and skim because most of it seemed rather straightforward. This book at times was rather dull but the advice is trustworthy. I will keep this book on my shelf because I can flip right to the part that I need advice on.
On last thing is the chart to help make decisions:
Address the right decision problem
Clarify your real objectives
Develop a range of creative alternatives
Understand the consequences of your decision
Make appropriate tradeoffs among conflicting objectives
Deal sensibly with uncertainties
Take account of your risk-taking attitude
Plan ahead for decisions linked over time
Smart Choices drills down into the eight steps of problem solving, discussing each at length. The book also discusses common pitfalls, which I saw myself in just about every pitfall mentioned.
The authors suggest that we, as readers, should get out there and practice being better problem solvers. We should also get more pro-active about solving problems. This is all great advice.
I had to admit I bounced over some of the more technical bits. This book probably has to be read several times, or referred to often, as it's hard to pick up all the techniques in one read.
Better problem solving is key to a better quality of life. Who wouldn't want to make better decisions and reap the benefits? I would highly advise reading Smart Choices because it sets the bar much higher for better decisions, and certainly gives the reader plenty of new skills and things to think about that should lead to better results!
Then there are systematic formal approaches by academics based on mathematical techniques, and these tend to be the equivalent of textbooks. Decision theory, mathematical modelling, strategy, optimization, probability, statistics, etc.. Great stuff. You can get a lot out of them if you put in the study, as far as useful tools and skills for hypothetical problems, but actually applying their lessons when you face a real problem is another matter. And as with most academic learning, practical transfer is left as an exercise for the reader. Also applying formal methods in situations where we already have good instincts, that often rubs us the wrong way. Using a spreadsheet to choose a mate? If you actually were to study systematic decision making and acquire the skills and habits for using those tools, you would surely make more decisions more consistently. But would you be wiser at knowing when to use these methods?
Smart Choices is closer to the first type of book, a practical guide to principles, but it has the soul of a textbook. No footnotes, bibligraphy, or exercises. But it does treat the subject matter very seriously. Maybe that's also part of why many of the reviewers on Amazon found the book boring. The authors' discipline in focusing on what really works while building on solid theory is clear throughout the book. As a result of this unique approach, this book has two great strengths in my opinion.
First, it is a surprisingly concise and admirably simple presentation of decision theory, with virtually no mathematics required. That's a signficant accomplishment in itself. The authors are deep experts in the technical aspects formal decision making, but have chosen a small set of simple tools to illustrate very general principles. When dealing with uncertainty, you create a risk profile for each alternative, listing the likelihood and consequences of each outcome for that alternative. Ok, not exactly rocket science, but who among us ever thinks of actually doing that to help them think through uncertainty? If you can't decide from the risk profile, you create a decision tree by identifying the things you can control and the things that remain uncertain, and their consequences. Very basic tools and advice and very powerful, with some practical advice for dealing with the messy details. It isn't so much the tools themselves that are the point here, it is the straightforward advice the authors offer on how and when to use them. There is a lot of experience condensed into a small book here.
The second strength of this book is that the authors make an unusually successful effort to bridge the different kinds of decision making genres, offering not only the outline of a formal process to guide you and specific tools to use within the process, but very clear practical explanations of why the steps are done as they are. The book begins with the usual mantra of systematic decision methods: having a process is better than not having a process. Sort of like having a map is better than not having a map. Ok. But before they jump into the how-to part that makes this a small practical guide, they also make their process criteria explicit. The process must help you to:
1. Focus on what's important
2. be logical and consistent
3. acknowledge objective and subjective factors, and blend analytical with intuitive thinking
4. require only as much information and analysis as neccessary to resolve the dilemma
5. encourage and guide the gathering of relevant information and informed opinion
6. be straightforward, reliable, easy to use, and flexible
This sounds great, but how can a formal decision process accomplish these things? And do the authors really provide one that manages this feat? It is their systematic and serious attempt to actually meet these 6 criteria, and their relative success at achieving it that makes for the greatest strength of this book.
The way they attempt this is to define each of their process step in very flexible terms, focusing on the critical relationships between the factors. Some trigger leads you to a loose problem definition with its associated concerns. The problem definition helps you identify means objectives (how you intend to meet your concerns). Means objectives help you figure out your more fundamental objectives. The objectives help you generate alternatives that meet those objectives. Analyzing consequences in various ways helps you evaluate the alternatives and even go back to generate new ones. Alternatives often have consequences that meet different objectives in different ways, so we have ways of helping to make tradeoffs. There is a lot of theory and experience buried into these seemingly simple ideas, and it would be very easy to miss the value of this if the reader hasn't seen decision theory done less expertly in many other books. It is very easy to make the process too simple, too complicated, too rigid, or not provide enough guidance. I think the authors get it pretty much just right.
The reason it works in this book, in my opinion, is that by explaining the process in clear terms and not just providing the tools, the flexibility of the process becomes much clearer. It becomes obvious from the examples why you want to keep looking for better alternatives even in the later stages of the process, even as you eliminate alternatives that just won't work or just aren't as good as others. It becomes clear where and how to consider uncertainty. It becomes more evident where various thinking traps make their way into the process by causing us to persevere at the wrong problem, by not considering important objectives, but not looking closely enough at the consequences of each alternative, by not considering tradeoffs, by missing relationships between decisions, or by failing to account for your own personal risk tolerance. The guidelines for the process help you avoid each of these problems by helping you focus on the right things at the right point in the process, but without making it so rigid that you fall into a completely different trap.
There is no magic problem solving or decision making method that will solve your problems for you, but following the advice in this book will at the very least help you focus on the right things, ask the right questions at the right time during the process, and help explain your decisions better to others as well as to yourself. There are books that provide more details on specific tools, but this book stands out for its clear and practical presentation of the overall process of making decisions.