Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness

I read a fair deal. Well, that is when I have time. When I don’t have time I listen to book on tape on my commute. I might be a little old school but I haven’t switched over to podcasts yet. I’ve found navigation on podcasts apps to just be off putting. I try to make things easier by downloading the podcast but then when I’m done with it, there isn’t (at least there isn’t that I’ve found) an easy way to delete the one I’ve just finished and download the next one in order

Anyway, enough whining about the podcast app and onto my book review: Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness. Nudge was written by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, published back in 2008. I’ve listened to it on audio a couple of times. I don’t like book reviews that don’t get to the point, so here’s mine: If you are any way responsible for influencing other peoples’ decisions, then this book is definitely worth the read.

In short, Nudge is a strategy for helping people make better choices. The tricky bit is who gets to decide what “better” means.  Many of us are what the authors call “choice architects.”  A choice architect is anyone who is orchestrating a situation where another person has to make a decision.  This can be official and complex like a human resource person setting up a benefits package selection or very simple and personal, for example offering up options for selection which restaurant to meet in.  It turns out that how and in which order you layout options dramatically influence the final choice.

The authors Paternal Libertarian.  That is, they believe the institutions have the right and responsibility to influence choices but defend the right of the individual to override the institutional choice.  Sort of a maximum choice but we think this is the right one for you sort of situation.

The book reviews a number of biases that humans use in their decision-making process.  A couple of the most important ones are “status quo bias” and “herd mentality.”  A status quo bias simply means the tendency for people to continue doing what they have been doing, regardless of the situation has changed.  Sort of a mental inertia.  A great example…..at least for us older people….is the old record club.  Sure, you do get 11 albums…long play even….for a penny as long as you agree to the monthly delivery.  Enough of the people who sign up for that initial amazing deal forget to cancel their payment each month to make it profitable for the companies to continue to offer this huge loss leader.  Herd mentality is where people tend to take the most popular choice….the same as everyone else…..regardless of their personal opinion.  In a Nudge situation, this could be offering two choices: A and B.  Then putting the words “Most popular” behind the choice you wish the decider to make. 

The book is a little overly long in my opinion but definitely worth the read.