Book Reviews and Summary of the Best Books on Thinking and Decision-Making
Considering how many decisions we make on a daily basis it is amazing how little training we receive in decision-making. Perhaps it is even more surprising that – despite all our advances in science and particularly psychology – quite how hard it is to capture the complexity of human decisions.
The capacity that humans have to make decisions, be that through intuition or rational thought, is something that sets us aside from everything else on the planet; be that animals or computers.
In an ever faster paced and changing world, with growing access to information and choice, it is of growing importance to understand decision-making. If we want to become comfortable with uncertainty, risk and change; if we aspire to embrace learning, innovation and growth, then we need to be better at making decisions.
We all can make better decisions, but if you are a leader or manager, and your decisions affect the people and organisation you are responsible for, then this skill is of critical importance.
How do we get better at decision-making?
To be more effective at decision making we need to look at questions such as: is intuition or rational thought better for making decisions? How do we make logical or moral decisions? Can we even classify decisions in these ways? Can we over-ride our biases and fallacies? When are statistics and decision making models effective and when not? Which approaches and tools can help us? How can we think more effectively?
Here are some reviews and summaries of great books to help you on this journey. You will capture a glimpse of how amazing your brain is while getting a feel for its limitations. You will learn to embrace your innate ability to make superb decisions along with being more cognisant of the biases we all harbour. Armed with this knowledge you can develop strategies, and choose the right tools, to help make the best decisions in the various situations you are confronted with.
If you like the look of any of the books just click on the pictures to link to their reviews on Amazon.
Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Thinking Fast and Slow is the international best seller by Daniel Kahneman. Kahneman’s book is perhaps best known for his helpful and widely used classification of decision making into system one; intuitive (fast) decision-making and system two; the logical or rational (slow) decision-making. The book distils several decades of research on cognitive bias, prospect theory and happiness. It is highly instructive, especially in understanding the intellectual challenges we face when making decisions.
Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, by Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell’s book is all about our amazing ability to make fast and effective decisions. In other words it is about intuitive thought and how we know things without knowing. At the heart of this book is the idea of keeping decision making simple and avoiding the ‘analysis paralysis’ that can be the result of too much information. It is full of fascinating examples and insight, and provides an interesting counterpoint to Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow.
Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving and Prediction, Edited by John Brockman
John Brockman, publisher of Edge.org, brings together a selection essays and transcripts in this book that explore various facets of thinking and decision making from leading psychologists, philosophers and neuroscientists. The book is intellectually challenging and tackles diverse issues such as desire, intuition, morality, statistics, rationality and human nature. I found the content humbling, as it opens the door to the amazing complexity of the brain and how much we still have to learn. It does not serve particularly well as an introduction to decision making but if you are interested in the subject then it does expose you to some of the leading thinkers and ideas in this field of psychology.
Time to Think by Nancy Kline
Nancy Kline demonstrates that the quality of our thinking depends largely on the situation provided for us to think within. In particular Nancy shows the empowering nature of focussed attention and how active listening enables us to think better. The concept of ‘The Thinking Environment’ outlined in this book can help to transform your work meetings and personal relationships. The book is a rallying call to improve not just the way we work, but the way we approach life. I found it inspirational, I think you will too.
The Chimp Paradox, by Steve Peters
Steve Peters is a psychiatrist and sports psychologist who has worked extensively in the field of elite sports, and most notably with British Cycling. The Chimp Paradox seeks to explain, in simple terms, how the mind works and how to manage thoughts and emotions in order to be more confident, effective and happy. Although the book does not set itself out to be about decision making per se, the mind management model – that compares the emotional ‘chimp’ mind to the logical ‘human’ mind – is very much related to Kahneman’s systems one and two thinking or intuitive and rational decision making.
The Decision Book: Fifty Models for Strategic Thinking, by Mikael Krogerus and Roman Tschappeler
The Decision Book is a highly practical guide to 50 decision-making tools that can be employed in various circumstances. It is broken down into four sections looking at; how to improve yourself, how to understand yourself better, how to understand others better and how to improve others. Even if you already know and use a few decision making techniques you can guarantee that there are more in this book to challenge and inspire you.
Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, by Dr Robert Cialdini
Ciadini’s book Influence is one of the ‘go-to’ works on marketing and why people say ‘yes’. Ciadini’s research outlines the various ways we influence other people (and get influenced ourselves) when making decisions. Whether you are trying to impact someone else’s way of thinking or wanting to be aware of what sways your own decision making, this is a must read.
Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, by Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein
Nudge theory looks at our biases and how we can subtly influence behaviours to get better decisions. Thaler and Sunstein look at the decision making on a social scale and how changes in behaviour have large social impact. It is therefore no surprise that the book has been popular with policy makers among others. The book is a good companion to Cialdini’s book on Influence.
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb
Taleb brilliantly, boldly (and somewhat brashly) puts forward arguments for the limitations of statistical analysis and how statistics are often very poor predictors of the future, especially in complex fields such as economics. Knowing this he puts out a rallying call that we should embrace uncertainty and leverage random opportunities as they arise. Prepare to be challenged!
Lateral Thinking, by Edward de Bono
This book is a classic text on creative thinking. De Bono explains how the mind works, and then sets out various inventive methods to inspire lateral thought. This is essential reading on problem solving and compliments other approaches to slow thinking. The book champions divergent thought as opposed to purely vertical, convergent decision making methodologies.
The Dice Man, by Luke Rhinehart
Just like Spinal Tap, our top ten goes all the way up to 11 with the inclusion of The Dice Man. This cult classic by Luke Rhinehart is controversial but worth a look. A fictional premise of a man who gives over every decision to a throw of a dice. It is not there to tell you how to make better decisions (such as the non-fiction titles above) but it will certainly get you thinking more about your decisions!
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