Are You Good At Making Good Decisions? – Two books to Help: Algorithms to Live By and Decisive

Algorithms to Live ByEvery harried renter, driver, and suitor you see around you as you go through a typical week is essentially reinventing the wheel. They don’t need a therapist; they need an algorithm.
Algorithms to Live By: The Computer Science of Human Decisions by Brian Christian, Tom Griffiths


The end result is pretty easy to figure out. Not necessarily easy to accomplish; just easy to figure out. We want our business, our company, to win the customer. To do that, we need to provide the product or service that the customer wants and needs, get it to them in a timely and “easy” way, and make a profit in the process.

Plenty of business books speak of this, using different terminology. Jack Welch calls it winning. Others call it results. A big word is execution. But, in the end, it’s simply this: do we have a product or service that others want and will pay for, and at a price that we can make a profit? (I’ll let you decide what is a “reasonable” profit vs. a “greedy” profit)…

But, getting from here to there is not easy, as a countless number of business books, and business failures, make clear.

And, one of the barriers to getting from here to there is the problem of making decisions. Everything from who to hire, when to hire, which design, which upgrade; just keep adding to the list of difficult decisions. Many decisions are difficult indeed.

My selection for the July First Friday Book Synopsis is all about making better decisions. And as I am reading Algorithms to Live By, I am discovering, yet again, that there is so much that I do not know.

I’ve read other books on decision-making; especially the excellent Decisive by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. But this book approaches decisions in a completely new way for me.

Here’s an example. And, for many of you, you will think – “how come you did not already know about this?” (See, I told you that there is so much I do not know).

The example is the “secretary problem.” Forgive the use of the word secretary – it is an “old, oft-studied” problem. A person needs to hire a secretary. When does that person stop looking and start hiring? From the book, I discovered that it is also a “stopping problem.” And, it is so well known that it has multiple names, and has been around a long time. Here’s the opening paragraph from the Wikipidea article, “Secretary problem”:

The secretary problem is a famous problem that uses the optimal stopping theory. The problem has been studied extensively in the fields of applied probabilitystatistics, and decision theory. It is also known as the marriage problem, the sultan’s dowry problem, the fussy suitor problemthe googol game, and the best choice problem.

The book describes and probes this problem in some detail, and provides us with: The 37% Rule* derives from optimal stopping’s most famous puzzle, which has come to be known as the “secretary problem.” 

You can imagine that this problem, and this rule, provide plenty of implications for many other decision-making struggles in business, and in life.

So, if you are in the Dallas area on July 7, come hear my synopsis of this book. And, maybe, order my synopsis of Decisive from our “buy synopses” tab at the top of this page. (Or, of course, a better option is to read both of these books).

But, the challenge of course, is to get better at making good, smart, solid, wise “this will work well” decisions.

Apparently, too many of us are not all that good at making such decisions…yet!


One thought on “Are You Good At Making Good Decisions? – Two books to Help: Algorithms to Live By and Decisive

  1. karl

    We have a half-day training program on Decisive, that Randy has facilitated for clients including the Dallas Police Department, Baker Brothers Plumbing, and at least one other professional association. If you are interested in seeing what we do in the program, please contact us at .


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