Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Give Yourself a Nudge

Ralph L. Keeney

Your decisions collectively empower you to create the life that you desire. If you want to improve your professional skills, enhance a relationship, eat a more healthy diet, contribute more at work, or mentor young people, you need to make decisions. Your decisions turn your plans into reality and improve the quality of your life. The rest of your life just happens beyond your control. So your decision making skills are critically important.

None of us learned how to make good decisions, as we did with other skills. Each of us developed our decision-making style by trial and error. Over the last four decades, researchers and scientists in the fields of behavioral economics and psychology have identified numerous biases and shortcomings of the habits used by all decision-makers. A concise summary of these findings is the following: 1. decisions are often not adequately understood when a choice is made, and 2. the choice of an alternative strongly depends on how the alternatives are presented, rather than on their potential impacts.

My new book, Give Yourself a Nudge presents numerous ways to limit these biases and shortcomings. It describes and illustrates several different types of personal nudges that guide you to make smarter decisions. These nudges help you clearly define the decision that you face, thoroughly articulate what you want to achieve by making that decision, create better alternatives to consider, and deliberately identify more desirable decisions to face.

One of the most useful nudges is called a decision opportunity. I refer to a decision that you create for yourself or your business as a decision opportunity, rather than a decision problem. The decision problems that you end up facing occur due to actions of others or circumstances beyond your control.  

Pursuing a decision opportunity usually improves your life, whereas solving a decision problem rarely can improve your life. Let me explain. Decision problems occur when you become sick, your car is damaged, or you lose your job. Solving a decision problem attempts to restore your quality of life to its level before the decision problem occurred. However, nothing became worse in your life when you defined a decision opportunity that you want to face. Pursuing that decision opportunity should raise the quality of your life.

To create a decision opportunity, all that you initially need to do is think about something you would really like to have or experience for yourself or others. You then define the decision opportunity as ’decide how to make that desired future a reality’. There are no limits to thoughts, so any that you envision can be the basis for a decision opportunity. After you define a decision opportunity, then address it in the same way that you do for a decision problem. Specifically, clarify all of your objectives for that decision opportunity, next create a set of potential alternatives to achieve them, and then select the alternative that best achieves your objectives.

Give Yourself a Nudge by Ralph L. Keeney
Give Yourself a Nudge by Ralph L. Keeney

A free sample chapter of Give Yourself a Nudge can be read here: cambridge.org/keeneychapters.

Watch Keeney discuss Give Yourself a Nudge in the following videos.

About The Author

Ralph L. Keeney

Ralph L. Keeney is Professor Emeritus at the Fuqua School of Business of Duke University, USA. Throughout his career, he has been a professor and consultant on making important dec...

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