People aren’t born good or bad decision makers. Decision-making skills are something you can learn and improve, just like writing, speaking, or playing sports. Lots of great books have been written about the decision-making process. Here are our top 10:
- Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
- Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work Hardcover, Chip Heath and Dan Heath
- The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz
- Principles, Ray Dalio
- This Will Make You Smarter, Edited by John Brockman
- Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell
- The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions, Emily P. Freeman
- Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths
- Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
- A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Warren Berger
Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s ground-breaking research on the psychology of judgment and decision-making provided the foundation for many of the other books on this list. Their findings won Kahneman the Nobel Price for Economic Sciences in 2002 (Tversky died in 1996). Thinking, Fast and Slow summarizes much of their research.
The crux of this book is that human beings have two systems of mental processing: System 1, a fast system, and System 2, a slow system. System 1 is the emotional brain. It makes quick decisions without any conscious thought. System 2 is the logical brain. It makes slower decisions, taking the time to analyze available information.
What’s special about this book: It is the foundation of most of what we know about decision making.
Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work Hardcover, Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Brothers and business school lecturers Dan and Chip have won numerous awards for their four business books. In Decisive, they introduce a four-step process to protect ourselves from our unconscious biases and make better decisions.
This decision-making process is known as the WRAP process:
- Widen your options
- Reality-test your assumptions
- Attain distance before deciding
- Prepare to be wrong
What’s special about this book: It takes a problem identified by Kahneman and Tversky (unconscious biases) and presents practical solutions we can all follow.
The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz
Psychologist Barry Schwartz was ahead of his time with this bestseller from 2004, in which he argues that consumers suffer anxiety from having too many products to choose from.
Schwartz offers a 5-step strategy to making better shopping decisions:
- Figure out your goal or goals
- Evaluate the importance of each goal
- Array (prioritize) the options
- Evaluate how likely each of the options is to meet your goals
- Pick the winning options
What’s special about this book: It presents an easy 5-step solution to a problem we all suffer from.
Principles, Ray Dalio
Ray Dalio is the best hedge fund manager of all time when measured by net gains, so it’s fair to say he knows a thing or two about decision making. In Principles, Dalio shares what he has learned during his career. He argues that life, like investing, should be lived according to certain rules (or principles).
This book is a gold mine for anyone wanting to improve their decision-making skills. In it, Dalio sets out a clear, articulate approach to decision-making that anyone can apply to their career or personal life.
What’s special about this book: It contains practical, digestible lessons from someone we should all listen to.
This Will Make You Smarter, Edited by John Brockman
This is a compilation of essays from leading scientists on the topic of improving your thinking. It makes the list of top decision-making books purely because of the star-studded cast of contributing writers, which include Steven Pinker (author of the ‘The Blank Slate’), Richard Dawkins (Evolutionary biologist), Brian Eno (one of the world’s most influential music producers), and Richard H. Thaler (the father of behavioral economics).
The book presents easily understandable scientific concepts to help us improve our cognitive toolkits and decision-making skills. As author David Brooks rights in the foreword to This Will Make You Smarter, this book “gives us better tools to think about the world and is eminently practical for life day to day.”
What’s special about this book: It is written by dozens of top contributors from a range of academic and non-academic disciplines.
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Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell
Malcolm Gladwell has made a career out of writing about complicated scientific topics for mass audiences. In Blink, he draws on research from behavioral economics and psychology to show how our unconscious mind does most of the decision making for us.
A central theme of the book is thin-slicing, our ability to make decisions based on very limited information. Gladwell concludes that decisions made from personal intuition are often as good as or better than carefully considered ones. He draws on real case studies to support his thesis, such as a medical malpractice suit and a Pentagon war game.
What’s special about this book: Gladwell’s books are always illuminating and entertaining, so this one is a must for anyone interested in decision making.
The Next Right Thing: A Simple, Soulful Practice for Making Life Decisions, Emily P. Freeman
Most of us at one time or another have become paralyzed by having to make a big decision. Should I accept a great job offer in another city? Where should I attend school? Do I want to marry this person?
In The Next Right Thing, Emily P. Freeman offers a thoughtful guide for the second-guessers, the chronically hesitant, and anyone who suffers from decision fatigue. This book isn’t so much about the decision-making process as it is about living with our decisions. It is a good complement to Freeman’s The Next Right Thing podcast.
What’s special about this book: It focuses on what we do post-decision.
Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions, Brian Christian & Tom Griffiths
You don’t have to be a computer scientist to enjoy this book. Drawing on multiple academic disciplines, bestselling author Brian Christian and cognitive scientist Tom Griffiths explore the link between computer algorithms and human decision making. The book contains many useful lessons on how to improve your decision-making skills.
This book isn’t just theoretical; it contains practical tips. From small decisions like finding a parking spot and organizing your inbox to big decisions like finding a spouse and improving your memory, Algorithms to Live By teaches how to apply the science of computer algorithm to our own lives.
What’s special about this book: Who knew computer science could teach us so much about decision making!
Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness, Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
Thaler, consider the father of behavioral economics, and Sunstein, the most frequently cited American legal scholar in history, are two of the finest minds in America. In this book, they join forces to produce what The Guardian called a "jolly economic romp but with serious lessons within.”
This book deals more with government decision-making than personal decision-making. The authors make the case for libertarian paternalism, a policy of allowing people to make their own decisions but of having the government influence people’s behavior in order to make the right decisions. It is an interesting and important book for anyone interested in the subject of decision making.
What’s special about this book: It’s a good read for anyone interested in decision making and government policy.
A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, Warren Berger
To get better answers, we first must learn to ask the right questions. That is the central message of Warren Berger’s 2014 bestseller. Berger shows us that one of the most powerful forces for change in our careers and lives is a simple tool that has been with us from childhood: questioning.
Through real case studies from businesses like Google, Nike, Netflix, Airbnb, and Pandora, Berger shows how deep, imaginative questioning leads to innovation. He also shares stories of regular people using questioning to solve everyday problems and make everyday decisions, from “Should I diversify more–or focus on specializing in one area?” to “What should I have for lunch later on?”
What’s special about this book: It reminds us about the importance of something we were good at as kids: questioning.