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Preface

Preface

Few issues so widely affect our daily lives as dramatically as does the quality of our decisions. How much you earn, your health status, your relationships, and your overall level of happiness are just a sampling of outcomes that are largely due to decisions you’ve made.

In spite of the importance of making good decisions, few of us have had any formal training in the process. You couldn’t graduate from high school without classes in English, math, science, government, and history, but did you have any courses in decision making? Probably not. If you want to be good at cooking, you take courses in cooking. The same is true for drawing, doing financial analysis, or healing the sick. Most of us even took a formal class in typing to develop our proficiency for such a mundane task as key-boarding. But, for some reason, it’s just assumed that, through practice and experience, all of us can learn to be good decision makers.

A little observation tells us rather quickly that everyone doesn’t make good decisions. Apparently, practice and experience aren’t very good teachers of this skill. I, for one, continue to be amazed at the bad decisions some people make. They buy stocks at their peak prices and sell them when they’re near their lows. They play slot machines and bet on other games of chance as if there is such a thing as a “hot streak,” or they marry a person that they know is wrong for them. (For evidence on this last point, watch some of the daytime talk shows and listen to guests contrive explanations for staying with partners who continually lie and cheat on them.)

We know a great deal about how people make decisions and how to improve the process. Unfortunately, this knowledge is not widespread. The purpose of Decide & Conquer is to change that. Drawing on thousands of research studies, this book translates what experts know about behavioral decision processes into layman terms with heavy emphasis on application. I wrote this book as an everyman’s guide on how to improve the choices that shape our lives, and, after reading this book, you will have the tools to make better decisions.

What qualifies me to write this book? I’ve been researching and writing about organizational decision making for nearly 30 years. My textbook on organizational behavior, for instance, is now in its 10th edition and has been read by more than a million students. The behavioral decision-making literature is a fundamental component in understanding organizational behavior. I wrote Decide & Conquer because I thought I could bring my “translating” skills to the behavioral decision-making literature and make this literature more accessible to people with a nontechnical background.

Keep in mind that giving you the tools to make better decisions is not the same as helping you to make the right decisions. This book is designed to show you the right way to structure and analyze problems. It focuses on the process you use to arrive at your decisions. That’s because a good decision should be judged by the process used, not the results achieved. In some cases, a “good decision” results in an undesirable outcome. If you used the right process, however, you will have made a good decision regardless of the outcome. So I can’t tell you what to decide, but I can show you how to decide. Unfortunately, because chance events influence outcomes, there can be no assurances that using the right process will result in a desirable outcome, but it does increase that probability.

This book has been organized into five parts. Part I argues that decision making permeates everything we do and that all of us need to know the right way to make decisions. Part II proposes that improving your decision making begins by understanding your personality traits and how they shape your decision-making preferences. Part III describes, in detail, biases and shortcuts that many of us use that hinder our decision-making effectiveness. Part IV describes a number of insights that can help you improve your decision making. Part V is a one-chapter brief summary of what you should have gotten out of reading this book.

A book like this owes its existence to two distinct sets of contributors. First are those scholars who have studied the psychology of human judgment and decision making and have shared their research with us. The insights you’ll find in this book are the culmination of decades of research by hundreds of scholars such as Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky, Herbert A. Simon, Baruch Fischhoff, and Paul Slovic. My role here is similar to that played by television news anchors. TV news anchors don’t make the news; they just report it. Similarly, I didn’t “make” the findings you’ll read about in this book; I merely report them. My contribution was to review the thousands of studies that have been done on behavioral decision making and translate them into a form that can be easily understood and used.

The second set of contributors are the people at my publisher—FinancialTimes/Prentice Hall. Tim Moore, John Pierce, and Gary June believed in this project from its beginning and have provided me with terrific editorial and marketing support. Russ Hall provided feedback on how the manuscript could be improved, and Nicholas Radhuber was instrumental in managing the production process that turned my manuscript into the book you have in your hands. My thanks to each of you for making this book a reality.

Stephen P. Robbins
Seattle, Washington

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