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Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions Hardcover – September 10, 1998

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Editorial Reviews Review

Have you ever hired someone only to regret your decision two months later? Or looked at your financial portfolio and wondered why you bought the stocks you did? In Smart Choices, authors John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, and Howard Raiffa take the guesswork out of the decision-making process and offer a systematic approach to making the right choice. Most of us have problems making decisions, because we've never learned how. The authors write:
Despite the importance of decision making to our lives, few of us ever receive any training in it. So we are left to learn from experience. But experience is a costly, inefficient teacher that teaches us bad habits along with good ones. Because decision situations vary so markedly, the experience of making one important decision often seems of little use when facing the next.
Smart Choices outlines eight elements involved in making the right decision, from identifying exactly what the decision is and specifying your objectives to considering risk tolerance and looking at how what you decide on today influences what you may decide in the future. The book is full of real-life situations and scenarios that effectively illustrate each element of a good decision. If you think the topic of making the right choice is mundane or a simple matter of common sense, then think again. Smart Choices will relieve you of the regret that so many of us carry because we didn't know how to "think it through." --Harry C. Edwards

From Publishers Weekly

In 1966, the Lovin' Spoonful had a #2 hit with "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?" Two years later, Raiffa answered that question for a generation of academics with his book Decision Analysis, whose argumentAthat decision-making skills can be learned and applied as a discipline of their ownAmade Raiffa deeply influential in management and social science. Raiffa (a former professor at Harvard Business School), his longtime associate Hammond (a professor of management and engineering at the University of Southern California) and Ralph Keeney (The Art and Science of Negotiation) here explain decision-analysis techniques and stratagems for the benefit of nonspecialists. They provide substantial, straightforward explanations of concepts (risk tolerance, sunk costs, desirability curves) that sound arcane but may help readers to buy the right car, choose a mutual fund, decide on a school, or plan a vacation. Unfortunately, the lingo of self-help often substitutes for the jargon of management consulting, as when Raiffa's famous five decision steps become the trendy acronym PrOACT. And the example problems can seem clich?d, two-dimensional or implausible, even when based on fact. Nevertheless, recommendations like "Remember that the value of an incremental change depends on what you start with" and "Make sure your subordinates reflect your organization's risk tolerance in their decisions" are, at the least, good reminders that the logic of decision making is often counterintuitive; at best, they are an important, useful set of insights.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (September 10, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0875848575
  • ISBN-13: 978-0875848570
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #132,529 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

76 of 82 people found the following review helpful By on February 21, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I had the pleasure of reading this book last year as assigned material in a graduate business course taught by Ralph Keeney. My degree is in information systems management and, frankly, I took Managerial Decision Analysis only because I needed 3 elective credits to graduate. In retrospect, however, the course was among the most beneficial to me and Smart Choices was certainly the most relevant book I read in graduate school. I say it was the most relevant because it demonstrates how to define problems and make decisions not simply as a business leader, but as an individual. The PROACT approach is a valuable tool for making formal decisions like "Which career path should I choose?" or "Which software package should I recommend to my client?" But the mentality that the approach engenders is pervasive. You will find yourself unwittingly applying elements of it to questions like "How should I spend time with my kids this weekend?" or "What is the best Valentine's Day gift for my wife?" The greatest benefit to me has been the piece of mind that comes with knowing that I don't just make better decisions -- I am now a better decision maker.
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42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 1, 1999
Format: Hardcover
I have read many books on decision analysis - however, the 3 authors managed to condense the most relevant points in one book, without academic speak. The famous Kahnmann & Tversky's Heuristics and Biases are nicely summarised in the final chapter. The case studies are easy to relate to. Definitely a professional book written for the layman. No need for a PhD to understand this!
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36 of 39 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 28, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is an excellent book. The title may make this appear to be one of the too-numerous mass-market books which claim to offer advice on business and personal decision-making but actually offer lots of specific admonitions which are based on values which the reader may not share (example: anything by Steven Covey). This book, however, doesn't try to sell you any of the the authors' values; instead it teaches you an effective process that you can use to analyze any decision-making situation and make the choices which are most effective for achieving your objectives, whatever they may be. The book treats the subject in the same systematic way that it might be treated in an academic decision theory text, only it is written in plain language which can be read quickly and easily comprehended by the general reader. It finishes with a summary outline (they call it a "roadmap") which is a useful quick reference.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Todd I. Stark VINE VOICE on May 29, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
There are a lot of books about decision making and problem solving, and the vast majority of them are mediocre. There are a number of decent, readable accounts that give some simple tips and teach you about psychological principles, but these typically have very little in the way of solid tools. We all know it gets boring when the math starts or when we have start doing drills to learn basic skills. And the more specific they get with their methods, the less useful it becomes for our own problems. Books that cater to our creative side can help us learn how to break out of ruts, but they are weaker on helping us make good decisions more consistently.

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.
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30 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Sachmo on September 30, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The first 75 pages or so of this book are pretty boring. As someone else noted, immediately after reading them you wonder what it was you just read, because the writing feels very meaningless. The one message I took away from it was, carefully think about how you phrase a problem. True enough, but that is also kind of obvious.

One thing especially annoying about the book was that they role-played with a couple seeking to buy a new home because they were having a new baby. The problem as they describe is whether to renovate, buy a new home, if so which home, etc etc. The examples, although real in some aspects, do not go into enough depth. The case studies such as this one feel artificially canned to demonstrate a point. The case studies could have been a LOT better throughout the book, and would have made the book from an OK product to something really good.

Methods in this book, although systematic and useful, don't directly map to real life. They do however point you in the direction you need to go, which is to start writing things down in a clear coherent fashion (in terms of stating problems), and creating tables to visually see solutions to these problems compared against each other.

This book gets pretty good when it gets into the process of comparing alternatives. The ideas about putting solutions into tables, assigning numerical values to qualitative information, and then eliminating dominated alternatives is great. It clearly illustrates how to compare direct alternatives to each other, and there is very little room for screwing this up. Really good stuff, made the book worth reading.

After that however, I don't really buy into their risk analysis section.
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