cover image Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions

Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions

John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney, Howard Raiffa. Harvard Business School Press, $35 (244pp) ISBN 978-0-87584-857-0

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 argument--that decision-making skills can be learned and applied as a discipline of their own--made 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. (Oct.)