Monday, May 27, 2013

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

By Chip Heath & Dan Heath

Book review by Richard L. Weaver II, Ph.D.

The first thing that catches your attention in this new book by the Heath brothers is their writing. It captures your attention from the outset, and it holds it throughout the book. They are—flat out—terrific writers.

But it isn’t just the writing, to be sure, it is their use of examples to make their points. The examples are engaging and not only are they interesting in and of themselves, they very effectively make the points the Heaths are trying to make. In other words, the examples are sales tools for their ideas.

In addition to the examples is the research. They weave research results into the narrative throughout the book so effectively, so judiciously, and so effortlessly that it is hardly noticeable. Incidentally, if you check out the resources published in their 26 pages of "Endnotes" you will discover a wide range of sources from Psychological Science to Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, from the Journal of the American Medical Association to the Academy of Management Journal, from the Quarterly Journal of Economics to Basic and Applied Social Psychology, and from USA Today to numerous online sources. The range is as broad as it is deep—and always impressive.

Let me mention, too, an outstanding addition to this book that I have not seen previously. The Heaths include a one-page summary of each chapter in the page immediately following the end of the chapter. Not only does this offer a great summary and reminder, but it clearly demonstrates how beautifully organized each chapter is.

As an aside, I reviewed their book, Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die—which Time said was "A how-to for anyone with good ideas who wants to captivate an audience—and that excellent book was the inspiration for my speech, "Sticky Ideas: Low-Tech Solutions to a High-Tech Problem" which was published in Vital Speeches of the Day (August 1, 2007, pp. 73-78), and then, with my permission, became one of the "Speeches for Analysis and Discussion" (along with Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream" speech) in one of the best-selling public-speaking textbooks, Public Speaking: An Audience-Centered Approach, 8th ed., by Steven A. and Susan J. Beebe. I mention this as an indication of the power and effectiveness of the Heath’s ideas. Decisive is no exception.

There are a number of new and excellent ideas in this book. Some are captured in this summary paragraph:

"Throughout the book, we’ve discussed ways of nudging, prodding, and inspiring groups to make better decisions. Seeking out one more option. Finding someone else who’s solved our problem. Asking, ‘What would have to be true for you to be right?’ Ooching [I love that word!] as a way to dampen politics. Making big decisions based on core priorities. Running premortems and preparades. Laying down tripwires. Using these techniques will improve the results of your group decisions" (p. 239).

This is an outstanding book for many reasons, and having written about small-group problem solving for close to forty years, it makes a substantial contribution to the body of knowledge that supports the process, offers specific methods for improving efficiency, and suggests a number of steps—with excellent supporting examples—of ways to increase decision-making effectiveness.

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