3 out of 5 stars

Life is full of decisions; they can be a low impact as to what to eat, which route to take around a town or whether to buy a particular book or not. Other decisions have a much greater impact on our lives, the partner that you want to spend more time within the long term, the place that you choose to live or the path that you take in a career.

We are supposedly living in the age of the shortest attention span, not even being able to read the 280 characters from a tweet before the next notification attracts our attention. Other books have been written on the best way to make that instant decision when presented with the scantest of facts. But in this book Johnson wants us to change the way that we make decisions using a more deliberative decision-making approach.

  1. Mapping
  2. Predicting
  3. Deciding

He argues that this multi-dimension way of thinking about all the factors in a decision helps us make a better decision. He uses various real-life cases to explain the show the methodology behind it, including influence diagrams for the mapping stage to comprehend all of the factors about making a decision.

People who have deemed themselves super-forecasters have been shown to be no better than a primate with a dartboard when their predictions are assessed against their results and in predicting he explains the methods of ensuring that the decision is correct by contemplating all manner of possibilities.

The end result of that is then having to make a decision based on all the information provided. Not easy for very complex problems, but the tools like cost-benefit analysis and weighting assist with this part of the process.

You’d like to think that we as a species would be a better place to do this, but sadly we’re not. Vested interests often ensure that the decision process is skewed or flawed from the very beginning. Also having more diverse teams selected from people with a variety of experience and knowledge and give them the tools to challenge conventional thoughts will produce much better results than similar minded people.

I hadn’t read much about the Bin Laden takedown, so it was fascinating to read the level and layers of detail that went into the investigation of the site he was staying at and the suite of methods that they had at their disposal to accomplish the mission. In theory, then you will have come to a better decision if you follow these principles. Organisations with red teams provide the proverbial spanner in the works, also improve this by testing the resilience of the decisions that are being made. The bottom line is though that people make better decisions by planning in much more detail. Not just what you are intending to do, but the various possibilities could be and what the short and long term implications are.

I thought that it was an interesting book about a subject that we seem the fallout and failure from every day. I would have liked to have had more on the Marine Corps Planning Process that is mentioned in the book, and I’ve not read Middlemarch, so some of what he was describing about the fiction of George Elliot, and how it helped with decision making wasn’t relevant to me. However, I don’t think that this is his best work, my favourite of his Everything Bad is Good For You. has a much superior premise and narrative. That said, he is a good writer and I always find his books entertaining and informative and this was no different.

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