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Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions Paperback – March 5, 2002

4.5 out of 5 stars 75 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Business (March 5, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0767908864
  • ISBN-13: 978-0767908863
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (75 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #25,060 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The authors of the book "Smart Choices" (Hammond, Keeney and Raiffa) look at decision making as a disciplined informational affair. If you gather information according to their template you will make better decisions about some things. But they give only passing mention to the fact that decision-making is largely a psychological affair. Information handling (the topic of the decision) is opposed by psychological (emotional) determinants of decision-making. In the gap between these two factors, most people are driven more by emotions than by "rational factors" about information.

The motivation in decision-making is about what people want. The choices made are the expressions of motives - and motives are, by definition, psychological machinery. Psychological machinery is emotional. Period. If you consider the logic of TV's CSI show or Lieutenant Columbo, for example, any behavior depends on three things: motive, means and opportunity. The authors of this book have concentrated on the means for making a good decision. Opportunity to make a decision is taken for granted. But they have deleted the systematic emotional bias that disables so many motives of so many people so much of the time.

The downside of this excellent book is that the authors use the outline of their book in a way similar to the way pilots use a preflight checklist - to insure they will operate the machinery of their aircraft properly. Few human and interpersonal situations respond to "checklist logic". People are not normally as well organized as a well-maintained aircraft. People reach closure on decisions with emotional logic independent of the literal facts - in more cases than not. People have strong emotional habits and those emotions dictate the choices, not the information.
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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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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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