Was it a smart choice to read this book? Well, I needed some non-fiction to clear my mind of too much shallow sweetness and to engage it in something more challenging, and this "Smart Choices" by John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney and Howard Raiffa certainly did.
The big challenge came after I was about half way through and felt, frankly, bored with it. This is not due to the book being actually boring, but to me having had enough of the subject while at the same time still wanting to get to the last page without giving up.
It was part of the generous present given to me by a friend earlier this year, mentioned in my "Read in 2011"-posts before, and what prompted me to read it was not that I wanted or felt the need to learn how to make better decisions, but the hope that the book would give me some insight into how the human mind works when faced with decision-making. One or two years ago, I read Jonathan Lehrer's "How We Decide" and found it very, very interesting, and I suppose I was looking to repeat the experience with this work of three authors.
This time around, though, as the subtitle says ("A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions"), the emphasis is not so much on the neuro-scientific part of the process but on the practical application.
On that field, the book is doing very well. It shows a step-by-step procedure that can be followed for all kinds of decisions, whether they are of a personal nature or relate to one's professional life. Some parts of the process seem a bit more complicated and time-consuming than others, but later on it is explained that we should still strive to keep the whole thing simple and "know when to quit" - a very useful advice indeed!
I like the examples of how people have dealt with complex decisions. We meet, for instance, the Mather family who are faced with the question whether to move or renovate, something many of us have had to think about. Darlene, Drew and their son John reappear at the end of several chapters, applying that part of the process the chapter explained to their problem, and in the end they make a smart choice.
To avoid making this post overly long, let me just quote two short bits, one from the preface and one from towards the end:
We wrote Smart Choices to bridge the gap between how people actually do make decisions and what researches - including the three of us - have discovered over the last 50 years about how they should make decisions.
... always remember: the only way to exert control over your life is through your decision making. The rest just happens to you. Be proactive, take charge of your decision making, strive to make good decisions and to develop good decision-making habits. You'll be rewarded with a fuller, more satisfying life.
Oh, and there was one little paragraph that made me chuckle - it was as if the authors were saying their services (they all work in teaching and consulting institutions, companies and individuals regarding important decisions) were actually superfluous:
Our advice: find someone to talk to about your decision problem - let your mouth start your mind. Once you get talking, you'll see connections you never saw before. All the better if you prepare for the session by jotting down notes beforehand. ... Often we find that our consulting clients benefit more from preparing to meet with us and from the self-generated insights that result from explaining their problem than from any direct advice.
And on this amusing note, my review ends here, and I'll move to what I found when I first opened the book: A book marker from a library in a place I've never heard of (see picture).
Things like that intrigue me, and my mind instantly starts to spin a story around the book, the library that once handed out these book markers, and the previous reader of the book. Finding out about the library was the easiest bit - a quick internet search lead me to their home page: http://www.belvoirmwr.com/Facilities/Library/
But who was Van Noy? And how did the book make the long journey from Fort Belvoir to my book shelf in a small town in South Germany?