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How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices

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Through a blend of compelling exercises, illustrations, and stories, the bestselling author of Thinking in Bets will train you to combat your own biases, address your weaknesses, and help you become a better and more confident decision-maker.

What do you do when you're faced with a big decision? If you're like most people, you probably make a pro and con list, spend a lot of time obsessing about decisions that didn't work out, get caught in analysis paralysis, endlessly seek other people's opinions to find just that little bit of extra information that might make you sure, and finally go with your gut.

What if there was a better way to make quality decisions so you can think clearly, feel more confident, second-guess yourself less, and ultimately be more decisive and be more productive?

Making good decisions doesn't have to be a series of endless guesswork. Rather, it's a teachable skill that anyone can sharpen. In How to Decide, bestselling author Annie Duke and former professional poker player lays out a series of tools anyone can use to make better decisions. You'll learn:

    To identify and dismantle hidden biases.
    To extract the highest quality feedback from those whose advice you seek.
    To more accurately identify the influence of luck in the outcome of your decisions.
    When to decide fast, when to decide slow, and when to decide in advance.
    To make decisions that more effectively help you to realize your goals and live your values.

Through interactive exercises and engaging thought experiments, this workbook helps you analyze key decisions you've made in the past and troubleshoot those you're making in the future. Whether you're picking investments, evaluating a job offer, or trying to figure out your romantic life, How to Decide is the key to happier outcomes and fewer regrets.

240 pages, Kindle Edition

First published September 15, 2020

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About the author

Annie Duke

14 books473 followers
Annie is the co-founder of The Alliance for Decision Education, a non-profit whose mission is to improve lives by empowering students through decision skills education. She is also a member of the National Board of After-School All-Stars and the Board of Directors of the Franklin Institute. In 2020, she joined the board of the Renew Democracy Initiative.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 209 reviews
Profile Image for Sebastian Gebski.
920 reviews783 followers
December 27, 2020
I've picked it up because of two reasons:
* I've heard a lot of praise for Annie Duke (the author)
* the statement "combat your own biases" (that appears few times in the book's description/reviews) got me intrigued

It's rather an introductory book, but it's really well-shaped. It covers (among others):
* some basic cognitive bias
* some basic decision-making techniques
* two kinds of decisions: fast and permanent
* pre-mortems, why it may make sense to give up, etc.

What did I like most? Actually, the initial part of the book: about how ridiculous is (paradoxically) to judge the decision ... by its outcomes. That's something I find very important, yet, I'm one of those who keep forgetting about it in the heat of everyday's battles.

Solid 3.7-3.9 stars. And a good starter on the topic.
Why not more? I kept having the feeling that each chapter was starting nicely, but it had to end when things were starting to get really interesting :)
Profile Image for Venky.
928 reviews327 followers
November 15, 2020
Annie Duke played poker. She was damn good at it. So good that she holds a World Series of Poker Golf bracelet from 2004. So good that her lifetime earnings from poker exceeded a whopping $4 million. She has also, not surprisingly written a number of instructional books for poker players. Annie Duke, before turning professional was also awarded a National Science Foundation Fellowship to study cognitive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. She brings both the facets of poker and psychology to bear in her latest book, “How to decide”. As the title confesses, the book contains numerous checklists, practice exercises and toolkits to aid and abet the reader to make decisions in a logical, rational and practical manner.

At the heart of Ms. Duke’s book, lies the concept of the 3 ‘P’s – Preferences, Payoffs and Probabilities. Every preference is unique to the one engaged in making the decision. In order to ensure that the decision is made in a scientific and implementable manner, the decision maker needs to comprehend her goals and values, which will inform her preferences for various outcomes. Payoffs succeed preferences. Potential payoffs look at how outcomes impact advancements in either attaining the goal or straying from the objective. Every decision that is made has both payoffs as well as risks – upsides and downsides. Upsides and downsides may be both tangible as well as intangible. The key aspect to be considered prior to evaluating payoffs is to ascertain whether the potential advantages/upside is greater than the corresponding risk/downside. The final P in the troika is Probabilities. This involves defining the probability of the likely occurrence of each outcome.

Ms. Duke also urges her readers to employ the “Happiness Test” to assist them in their process of implementing decisions and instituting the attendant mechanisms. “Ask yourself if the outcome of your decision, good or bad, will likely have a significant effect on your happiness in a year. If the answer is no, the decision passes the test, which means you can speed up. Repeat for a month and a week. The shorter the time period for which your answer is “no, it won’t much affect my happiness,” the more you can trade off accuracy in favor of saving time.”

Ms. Duke also warns her readers about getting stuck in the quagmire of what she terms “resulting.” When we get muddled between the quality of decisions and the quality of outcomes, incorrectly trying to find a connection between the two, we risk repeating decision errors that, thanks to luck, preceded a good outcome. We may also avoid repeating good decisions that, because of luck, didn’t work out.

The most interesting chapters in the book are the ones dealing with what Ms. Duke terms “analysis paralysis.” In vogue even before the time of Aesop and his Fables, popularized by Voltaire when he immortally stated “perfect is the enemy of the good” and formally given the phrase by Igor Ansoff in his book, “Corporate Strategy: An Analytic Approach to Business Policy for Growth and Expansion”, “analysis paralysis” refers to spending a lot of time on inconsequential matters. “The time the average person spends deciding what to eat, watch, and wear adds up to 250 to 275 hours per year. That’s a lot of time spent on decisions that intuitively feel like they are inconsequential.” With a view to assist her readers in making decisions in a prompt and timely fashion especially where the potential positive payoffs outweigh its potential negative counterpart, Ms. Duke provides the following flow chart:


The term “freeroll” in the chart refers to situation where there is an asymmetry between the upside and downside because the potential losses are insignificant.

“Sheep In Wolf’s Clothing” is a situation where one has multiple options that are close in potential payoffs. These options are sheep in wolf’s clothing decisions. Close calls for high-impact decisions tend to induce analysis paralysis, but the indecision is, in itself, a signal that you can go fast.

Another innovative solution offered by Ms. Duke is the one relating to “Premortem” analysis. Unlike a postmortem analysis whereby facts leading to the success or failure are dissected post the actual occurrence of the outcome, premortem analysis involves identifying the goal one is trying to achieve or a specific decision one is considering. The steps in a pre-mortem analysis according to Ms. Duke involves:

Figuring out a reasonable time period for achieving the goal or for the decision to play out;

Imagining it’s the day after that period of time and the decision maker didn’t achieve the goal, or the decision worked out poorly. Looking back from that imagined point in the future, the decision maker has to list up to five reasons why she failed due to her own decisions and actions or those of her team;

The decision maker has to list up to five reasons why she failed due to things outside her control.

If the decision maker is going about this as a team exercise, she can have each member do the above steps independently, prior to a group discussion of reasons.

The same process may be undertaken even assuming the decision maker manages to achieve the goal. Such a positive analysis is termed “Backcasting” instead of a pre-mortem exercise.

Even though the concepts propounded, and the philosophy espoused by Ms. Duke in her book might be old wine in a new bottle, the container makes all the difference. It is not a mere repackaging exercise or an endeavour that reinvents the wheel. It is more of a reimagining process that goads on the readers to institute paradigm shifts in the way they act, think, speak, plan, react and most importantly decide.
Profile Image for Annie.
791 reviews847 followers
December 22, 2020
This book is filled with excellent advice on creating a process to make better decisions, including:
- Think of all possible outcomes and the likelihood.
- A bad outcome doesn't mean a bad decision since there are things out of your control.
- Hedge against outcomes out of your control (e.g., insurance) or select an option with lower risks.
- If the result was not on your list of possible outcomes, improve your process/expand your knowledge.

There are worksheets after each section for you to build on your decision-making process. There are redundancies with summary sheets and checklists covering the same points in the chapter but you can skip those if you're not going to do the exercises.
Profile Image for Bianca A..
214 reviews148 followers
April 5, 2021
Pretty useful book on decision skills. 4 instead of 5 stars because the message and lessons could have been either more numerous or sent to the audience in a more compact format. Also the author has waaaaaay too many books on decision making in different circumstances - but I can bet my money that they all regurgitate the same information, but with more appeal to the markets they claim to cater to.
Profile Image for mishti.
132 reviews6 followers
October 13, 2020
As Annie Duke writes in the intro of How to Decide, there are two things that determine how your life turns out: luck and the quality of your decisions — and you have control over only one of those things.

Decisionmaking shapes our lives, but we’re notoriously bad at it. Even after graduating with a cognitive science degree, it wasn’t until I read How to Decide that I felt like I was implementing my research into my daily life. Annie’s practical explanations, examples, and exercises helped me think rigorously about how I (a) form beliefs, (b) use my beliefs to make decisions, and (c) learn from past decisions. The book helped me address questions like: How can I fix inaccurate beliefs and judge what we need to learn more about? When deciding on something, when should I speed up vs. slow down? How can I overcome biases like resulting or hindsight bias? And, critically, how can I fairly review and re-evaluate my own decisionmaking process?

I read an early copy of this book as a young graduate and reaped a huge benefit from taking a pen and paper to Annie’s exercises. Drawing out decision trees, writing down probability estimates, performing pre-mortems, and more helped me decide where to move, what career to pursue, and even how to land my dream job. The same frameworks, in turn, have helped my friends and family decide whether to go to college, how to negotiate with managers, and even whether to start a startup.

Decisionmaking is an existential skill for us not only as individuals but also as a nation. News headlines every day on the pandemic, elections, etc. show us that the way that we make judgements in the face of uncertainty is a matter of life and death. I can only hope that more people learn from books like this one to improve the way we live. I, for one, will be returning to it regularly.
Profile Image for Scott Wozniak.
Author 12 books70 followers
October 27, 2020
The author’s first book (Thinking In Bets) was awesome and I recommend it often. So maybe I had too high expectations, but I was disappointed in this book. It’s a critical topic and she wasn’t wrong in any of the insights she shared. But they have all he shared elsewhere—and done better in those other books. Specifically, I’d recommend Thinking Fast and Slow and Decisive. So, this was a less thorough and less insightful version of those other books. Oh well. Good reminders, I guess.
Profile Image for Carol.
Author 3 books261 followers
June 18, 2022
Professional poker player Annie Duke presents fresh takes on decision-making in a digestible way.

For instance, she differentiates good decisions from good outcomes. Conflating the two can lead us to take the incorrect learning from an experience. Just because an outcome is positive, doesn't mean that the decision-making led to that; it's useful to diagnose if luck and external factors led to the desired result.

Humans also tend to remember, weigh and avoid negative outcomes more than they celebrate positive ones (guilty!) Therefore, more experience could lead one to choose more and more conservative paths. Being aware of these patterns allows us to more consciously overcome the potential bias.

She provides usable templates for dissecting decisions into learning, and encourages learning from others' mistakes.

Duke also suggests setting yourself up for success through pre-commitment contracts and staying calm in what could be emotionally "hot" situations of failure.

She complements the literature on positive thinking by asking us to consider the power of negative thinking too. In the latter portion of the book, she raises the value of pre-mortems (which I've found value from in my professional life) and backcasting (unveiling if something were to be successful, what would lead to that).

Reading "How to Decide" is like spending time with a master decision-maker who's applied her own clarity of thought to this elegantly presented text. Excellent!

Profile Image for Krishnanunni.
82 reviews23 followers
June 7, 2021
In one of his podcasts, Study-tube influencer Thomas Frank talked mentioned the author who is a celebrated poker player and her interdisciplinary approach to decision making(I mean she is using poker winning skills and applying the lessons she learned to decision making process in real life) had me fascinated.

The author's approach to viewing decisions through the lens of "Resulting" and some other biases isn't fresh but engaging. The author gave never before hear dimensions to why journaling is a necessary habit for decision making. Given my 9ish year long journaling habit, I felt pretty validated.

It is feels useful to look at life choices in terms of decision trees and probability clouds.
But, I dunno. I'm generally skeptical about these things. In the least, the book will help you to guide yourself away from both maladaptive self-criticism and self-appreciation.

I would also recommend people to read Michael Sandel's Tyranny of Merit alongside. While this book addresses certain cognitive biases associated with the ideas of winning and losing, Tyranny of Merit explores the political and social outcomes which I feel are closely related to the biases addressed in this book.
Profile Image for Adrien Mogenet.
49 reviews3 followers
November 18, 2020
Not the book I expected–I should have read the summary first! Hard to come up with a "fair" rating. I feel like this book could become my starting point or reference in the future when organizing training sessions or when providing coaching on Decision Making in general, given how the book is (well) structured: very tactical and practical checklists, thoughts experiments, workshops, and real-world scenarios that touch on pretty much any aspect of our decision-making processes. Annie's thoughts are well organized, and she provides a good recipe that should at least encourage us to dig deeper into a specific area whenever "How to Decide" is lacking depth (eg. deciding on policies, ethical decisions, etc.), presumably to keep it short, digestible, and actionable.
Profile Image for Aditya Lahiri.
58 reviews2 followers
January 13, 2021
Made me aware of a few good mental models and blindspots with regards to decision making. However, it felt a bit stretched and repetitive examples made it a drag sometimes. I heard it on audible but I think a physical book would be better since it had many exercises to work with.
Profile Image for Kirsti.
2,438 reviews96 followers
July 30, 2021
Practical advice on making decisions, choosing paths, and reframing how you and others look at things. Examples were somewhat repetitive—I got sick of hearing about the Seattle Seahawks.
Profile Image for Suraj.
13 reviews
July 25, 2021
good read, book is bit longer that what it could be but worth the read.

exposed me to few new ideas and ways to think about decisions.
Profile Image for Hayley Hu.
90 reviews
June 12, 2022
I appreciate that the author uses lots of relevant examples for many in the past two years. The book is technical and offers systematic approaches over making decisions.
Profile Image for Daniel.
606 reviews80 followers
December 19, 2020
Duke was a world class poker player and she gives solid evidence-based advice on how to decide. Most people judge a decision by the result. But that leads to bad learning about decisions.

So:
1. Write down all the potential outcomes
2. Write down the favourable outcome
3. Write down the probability of each outcomes. They cannot add up to more than 100%
4. Write down the range of confidence

Don’t know the probability? Start with base rates. Ask people but without giving away your own opinion.

5. Write down the Payoff
6. Imagine the positive and negative outcome.
7. Do a pre-mortem to find out what would have caused something to fail
8. Play Dr Evil game to see what what ‘death by a thousand cuts’ decisions would have doomed the decision
9. Ask each group member for their opinion by email before meeting; vote for the best decision without revealing how proposed what. Avoid letting the most senior person speaks first
10. For inconsequential outcomes, make a fast decision
11. For close choices, toss a coin
12. Regularly follow up past decisions
13. Keep your option open if possible
14. Know when to quit
15. Hedge your bets

This is very similar to Ray Dalio’s method.

No wonder she won at poker!
Profile Image for Matt Cannon.
290 reviews5 followers
April 17, 2021
This is a great book with all kinds of practical tools for decision making. I've learned a lot from Annie Duke from her Thinking in Bets book, interviews and posts she's made. This book continues to build on probability and decision making skills. In this book she talked about "resulting". This is where the outcome tail is wagging the decision dog. It's a mental shortcut where we use the quality of the outcome to measure the quality of the decision. I've fell for this trap before on the positive and negative side of my decisions. Resulting can work both ways. It can also make you think you've made a bad decision due to a bad outcome, which isn't always true. She uses the example of Pete Carroll, the coach of the Seattle Seahawks against New England Patriots during SuperBowl XLIX when he chose to pass instead of run with seconds left in game. You can read more about that here https://www.annieduke.com/how-to-make... This always resonated with me as Patriot's fan. I wondered why he decided to pass instead of run and used resulting to attribute the bad outcome to bad coaching. If you dig deeper, you see that's clearly not the case. In this book she outlines how being a better decision maker means being a better predictor of a set of possible futures. The book is designed to sharpen your skills and get you closer to having a crystal ball while understanding the way the future will unfold is always uncertain. I liked the section on the "outside vs inside" view. It involves looking for base rates, being eager to hear people disagree with you and looking where the inside and outside view collide. She goes into an example where a Daniel Kahneman study found that weather didn't impact happiness too much. This collides with most people's view and perspective on the weather as it relates to decision making, such as choosing a place to live. She talks about "when the decision is hard, that means it's easy". Think of taking a trip to Paris or Rome. You may obsess about which one will be a better trip, but at the end of the day, they're both great choices. Just flip a coin. She covers the only options test - also known as the sheep in wolves clothing test and the menu strategy, which are both useful for decision making. She covers opportunity costs and knowing when to hold and fold em. There was an interesting concept that both Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson use called the 2-way door decision, which focuses on making decisions where the cost to quit is low. The decision stacking section was particularly useful. This is where you make several lower decisions before you go all in. She mentioned dating as an example of this. You go on many dates before you settle down. There is so much more this book covers. She refers to it as "Waze for decision making" and I agree that it is a great book that teaches many practical decision making strategies to help you become a great decision maker.
Profile Image for Joseph Hoehne.
47 reviews6 followers
July 12, 2021
This book is kind of a sequel to “Thinking in Bets”. The main premise is that most decision making “tools” aren’t reproducible or consistent (I.e using your gut, pro/con list).

This book describes very concrete tools you can use to help in making decisions. A lot of these are based on the non deterministic ideas from “Thinking in Bets”. So there’s a lot about decision trees and thinking about alternate scenarios based on how “luck” contributes to outcomes.

If you liked “Thinking in Bets”, you’ll like this. I only gave it 4 stars because it wasn’t really life changing even though the research was credible and sound. It’s very interactive so I’ll probably come back when I have a decision to make.
March 3, 2021
Only got a few chapters in
It was too repetitive to go on. I really thought it would be more streamlined. Love the idea but not so much the book.
Profile Image for Brad.
125 reviews3 followers
November 12, 2022
Highly recommended! In the past year I have begun researching the field of Decision Intelligence. This is mostly related to my job as a data scientist as my role is to help teams at my company be more data driven. This book was recommended by quite a few podcasts and blogs on the topic and I found it pretty interesting.

The main takeaway for me was that the way people often evaluate decisions is backwards. We evaluate them based on the outcome of the decision. If we take a job somewhere and we ended up liking the job we think "That was a good decision to take the job!" but if somehow we end up hating the job we think "That was a bad decision to take the job!" Even though the circumstances surrounding the decision in both cases was the exact same. The simplest example of this thinking that the author provides is if you drive through a red light and do not get hit by a car, that was a bad decision yet a good outcome. You would never say it was a good decision to drive through the red light. Conversely, if you drive through a green light and get hit, that was a good decision with a bad outcome.

This line of thinking is problematic and SO prevalent. I see it in myself so much more now and I see it all over the work place. It is so easy to tell a story, after the fact, of why something worked a certain way. Confirmation bias is a drug. This is especially at its worst in politics. Think of any statement about Covid, the economy, etc. and you see this faulty line of thinking.

The author give some good advice around how to improve decision making. I particularly liked her thoughts on pro/cons lists - namely that they typically are not helpful and that they mostly just help us confirm our biases. There are no easy answers to ensure that we always make good decisions but the book was most helpful in helping me be more aware of when I am falling into some of the outcome bias traps.
Profile Image for Dennis Leth.
88 reviews3 followers
May 8, 2022
This is a great book about the process of decision-making. I believe this is a process where most can learn a lot and with small efforts getting better decisions.

This book is NOT a theory book. This is a hardcore practical and actionable book that will change your mind and process instantly. Especially if you do the work and assignments supplied in each chapter.

If you know the theory of bias and noise from Daniel Kahneman and the research on the expertise of experts by Philip E. Tetlock. Then you'll know we are bad decision-making. This book will course-correct out process. Whether we're making decisions as individuals or as a team.

My personal best takeaway is the checklist for feedback. I should build such a checklist before giving feedback and I should not give feedback on a topic unless all points on the checklist have been checked.

Thank you to Annie Duke for a lot of great tools and exercises.
Profile Image for Viktoriya Gruzdyn.
9 reviews1 follower
April 18, 2021
Why is it so important to have a high-quality decision process? Because there are only two things that determine how your life turns out: luck and the quality of your decisions. You have control over only one of those two things.

Luck, by definition, is out of your control.

And when you make better-quality decisions, you increase the chances that good things will happen to you.

In general, we don’t question our own beliefs enough.

We have too much confidence in what we think we know and we don’t have a realistic view of what we don’t know.

Making it a habit to ask yourself, “If I were wrong, why would that be?” helps get you to approach your own beliefs with more skepticism, disciplining your naturally overly optimistic view of what you know and getting you more focused on what you don’t know.

One of the best ways to improve the quality of your beliefs is to get other people’s perspectives.

When their beliefs diverge from yours, it improves your decision-making by exposing you to corrective information and the stuff you don’t know.
Profile Image for Mugdho.
18 reviews1 follower
January 16, 2021
Recommended for anyone who is struggling to make the right call every now and then. This book has explained in a very easy-to-read language regarding the cognitive biases that can potentially lead to "avoidable" bad decisions. In addition to that, a set of tools are explained that can guide individuals to make decisions more effectively and efficiently.
Profile Image for Zhivko Kabaivanov.
274 reviews7 followers
January 17, 2021
How to Decide (2020) investigates the way we make decisions, as well as common types of bias and faulty techniques that afflict them.

It teaches you how to identify different types of decisions, and then design practical processes to help slow down or speed up the deliberation process accordingly.

Profile Image for Douglas Meyer.
63 reviews7 followers
February 26, 2021
We are not nearly as good at making decisions as we think we are. Whether you are deciding whether to hold, raise, or fold a hand of cards; buy a house; go for it on 4th and 1; or any other decision - applying a framework that helps us to focus on process over outcome is critical. Deciding wiht out "gut" is so fraught with issues and biases. Annie Duke uses practical exercises, illustrative examples, and narrative stories to help the reader avoid falling victim to personal biases and weaknesses. Her process is simple and scalable, relative to the level of the decision. Decision-making is critical to leadership, personal relationships, and life...what topic area could be more relevant?
Profile Image for Riddhi Kishnadwala.
110 reviews5 followers
April 29, 2022
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one. With good snippets of examples and exercises, it's highly interactive and helps to understand the loopholes in thinking while making a decision. The tools and the processes described in this book are very helpful and will definitely help one to be more objective, learn from past mistakes and improve the quality of thinking. Must read at least once!
January 19, 2021
Good book in identifying biases and gives a framework for making high-stake decisions. You can skip first few chapters if you have read other books like "Thinking Fast and Slow", "The art of thinking clearly". Chapter on Analysis Paralysis is the best (Chapter 7).
Profile Image for Daniel Yi.
30 reviews2 followers
July 2, 2021
Succinct and practical

Easy to read, good examples, very practical. Not the most “fun” read but definitely worthwhile nonetheless. Will definitely be using it as a reference for future decision making.
Profile Image for Yura Gavrilovich.
73 reviews5 followers
June 21, 2022
Most of the book was kind of obvious but I found a couple of insightful moments in the ending chapters.
Overall I don't think that after I've read this book I'm now armed with a much better decision-making framework. More like maybe I'll have some parts of my decision-making process improved.
Profile Image for Lisa Hunt.
478 reviews9 followers
September 11, 2022
This was a fun read. It doesn’t go in to great depth but it had a lot of concepts that seem obvious once you read them but aren’t necessarily things that you think of. Some great takeaways that I’ll use going forward!
Profile Image for Lance McNeill.
Author 1 book7 followers
October 21, 2020
Another ace from Annie Duke

I love reading Annie Duke and this book is another 5 star hit, in my opinion. Her work is always extremely well written and well researched. I found the theories and practical applications balanced out just right in this book.
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