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Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happinessby Richard H. Thaler
Synopses & Reviews
When a group of people gather together to generate ideas for solving a problem or achieving a goal, sometimes the best ideas are passed over. Worse, a problematic suggestion with far less likelihood of success may be selected instead. Why would a group dismiss an option that would be more effective? Leadership and communications expert John Daly has a straightforward answer: it wasn't sold to them as well. If the best idea is yours, how can you increase the chances that it gains the support of the group? In Advocacy: Championing Ideas and Influencing Others, Daly explains in full detail how to transform ideas into practice.
To be successful, leaders in every type of organization must find practical and action-oriented ways to market their ideas and achieve buy-in from the members of the group. Daly offers a comprehensive action guide that explains how to shape opinion, inspire action, and achieve results. Drawing on current research in the fields of persuasion, power relations, and behavior change, he discusses the complex factors involved in selling an ideathe context of the communication, the type of message being promoted, the nature and interests of the audience, the emotional tenor of the issues at stake, and much more. For the businessperson, politician, or any other member of a group who seeks the satisfaction of having his or her own idea take shape and become reality, this book is an essential guide.
Leonard Mlodinow has had, to speak informally, a pretty random career: He earned a Ph.D. in physics from Berkeley, wrote for "MacGyver" and "Star Trek" and has now settled down as a science popularizer. A far more sober instance of randomness, however, underpins his new book, "The Drunkard's Walk." And it's not hard to see it as a sort of Rosebud, explaining why the author finds unpredictability... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) so compelling. During World War II in the Nazi death-camp Buchenwald, his father and other starving inmates had been told they'd be killed one-by-one until someone confessed to stealing some bread that had gone missing. Upon confessing, Mlodinow's guilty father was not executed, as expected, but promoted to serve as the chef's assistant. A different capricious decision then, and the author Leonard Mlodinow would not exist today. It's been said that what divides liberals and conservatives is the degree to which each thinks luck plays a role in where one ends up in life. For Mlodinow, "There but for the grace of God" is a mathematical (if not theological) truth. In "A Drunkard's Walk," which takes its title from scientific slang for a purely random succession of events, Mlodinow argues that it is quintessentially human to stamp the results of largely arbitrary processes as, in retrospect, inevitable. Shifting from his own family's encounters with fate, for example, he notes that it is hard to imagine a world without "Harry Potter," yet publishers rejected J.K. Rowling's manuscript nine times before someone finally said yes. There's a self-helpish lesson here: Whether we succeed in life is partly out of our hands — think of the other worthy authors whose manuscripts languish in desk drawers — but by persisting we offer lightning more chances to strike. Sandwiched in this book between a morally freighted opening and conclusion is a primer on the science of probability. "Probability is the very guide of life," Cicero wrote. If so, most of us are mapless. We put our money in the hands of moneymen with the best records over the past (say) five years, ignoring research that demonstrates that these big-swinging stockpickers are as likely as their peers to wind up at the bottom of the pile over the next five-year period. Even the scientifically literate can be confounded by probability. Mlodinow once tested positive for HIV, at which point his doctor sadly told him that there was a 99.9 percent chance he had a death sentence. But the doctor had failed to properly balance the 1-in-1,000 chance of a false positive against the 1 in 10,000 chance that a man in Mlodinow's demographic (heterosexual, married, white, non-IV-drug-user) had the virus. Within that group, only 1 in 11 people who test positive is truly infected; Mlodinow wasn't. Once in a while, Mlodinow sends you scurrying for a statistics textbook when he ventures into deeper mathematical waters or skips steps in his explanations, but when things get slow, there's usually a diverting historical detour. This is the kind of book in which you learn that Pascal, after he set aside his work on statistics, took to wearing "an iron belt with points on the inside so that he was in constant discomfort," lest the siren song of happiness tempt him. "Nudge," in contrast, is a much more policy-oriented book. It comes with substantial advance publicity, thanks in part to the imprimatur of Sen. Barack Obama, who has embraced some of the authors' proposals, which are underpinned by libertarian paternalism. ("Paternalism" because the authors want to steer people to make better choices; "libertarian" because they feel people should still be free to make bad ones.) Like Mlodinow, Richard Thaler, a pioneer of so-called behavioral economics, and Cass Sunstein, a noted law professor, discuss numerous studies that show just how far short humans fall from the ideal of homo economicus. Inertia, herd behavior, ignorance of odds, and egotism conspire to cause people to make bad decisions and poor predictions. (Typically, only 5 percent of Thaler's business school students say that they will end up in the bottom half of his class.) Thaler and Sunstein's best-known proposal has to do with 401(k) plans. When people fail to sign up for such plans, they are leaving money on the table — especially when employers match employees' contributions — not to mention raising the odds they'll be subsisting on chunk light tuna in retirement. One study found that enrolling workers automatically in these plans — switching from an "opt in" system to "opt out" — drove participation in the plans from 65 percent to 98 percent. In the arena of organ donation, switching to an opt-out system could save thousands of lives annually. One study in Iowa found that 97 percent of residents supported organ transplantation, yet only 43 percent of those people had checked the relevant box on their driver's license application. That gap could be closed if participation in organ-donor programs were the default position. If opt-in seems too aggressive when it comes to bodily organs, even a "forced choice" could improve the situation. Demanding that people give a clear yes or no would surely raise the number of donors, given the popularity of the concept. Some nudges might be purely informational. How much of the current mortgage crisis would have been averted had prospective homeowners been presented with a clear, readable document laying out some of the bad-case scenarios when their low, teaser interest rates ended? And there's more! What about a debit card explicitly reserved for charitable donations, which would make it a cinch to keep track of tax deductions and encourage more giving? Or software that detects uncivil language in your e-mail and asks if you really want to send it? In the end, it must be said, the profusion of proposals in "Nudge," however worthy, and the countless summaries of studies supporting them grow a bit wearisome. As influential as the book is likely to be, it's hard to imagine it pushing its way alongside Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" (inferior social science, far breezier style) on the best-seller list. Then again, who dares judge the odds of the publishing biz? None of us knows when lightning will strike. Christopher Shea, a Washington-based writer, is the Boston Globe Ideas section's "Brainiac" columnist. Reviewed by Christopher Shea, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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A groundbreaking discussion of how we can apply the new science of choice architecture to nudge people toward decisions that will improve their lives by making them healthier, wealthier, and more free
Every day, we make decisions on topics ranging from personal investments to schools for our children to the meals we eat to the causes we champion. Unfortunately, we often choose poorly. The reason, the authors explain, is that, being human, we all are susceptible to various biases that can lead us to blunder. Our mistakes make us poorer and less healthy; we often make bad decisions involving education, personal finance, health care, mortgages and credit cards, the family, and even the planet itself.
Thaler and Sunstein invite us to enter an alternative world, one that takes our humanness as a given. They show that by knowing how people think, we can design choice environments that make it easier for people to choose what is best for themselves, their families, and their society. Using colorful examples from the most important aspects of life, Thaler and Sunstein demonstrate how thoughtful choice architecture” can be established to nudge us in beneficial directions without restricting freedom of choice. Nudge offers a unique new take—from neither the left nor the right—on many hot-button issues, for individuals and governments alike. This is one of the most engaging and provocative books to come along in many years.
About the Author
Richard H. Thaler is considered a pioneer in the fields of behavioural economics and finance. Born in New Jersey, USA, on September 12, 1945, Thaler received his bachelor's degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1967. He received his master's degree in 1970 from the University of Rochester and his Ph.D. in economics in 1974.
Thaler first gained attention between 1987 and 1990 with a regular column, "Anomalies," published in the Journal of Economic Perspectives. In his column he wrote of individual instances in which economic behavior seemed to violate traditional microeconomic theory.
Daniel Kahneman later cited his joint work with Thaler as a "major factor" in his receiving the Bank of Sweden Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Commenting on the prize, he said, "The committee cited me 'for having integrated insights from psychological research into economic science'. Although I do not wish to renounce any credit for my contribution, I should say that in my view the work of integration was actually done mostly by Thaler and the group of young economists that quickly began to form around him."
Thaler has written a number of books intended for the lay reader on the subject of behavioral finance, including Quasi-rational Economics and The Winner's Curse, the latter of which contains many of his "Anomalies" columns revised and adapted for a popular audience. Thaler is an active voice in the global discussions underway on the subject of individual pension plans. Thaler and like-minded colleagues have been using behavioral findings to influence President Bush’s proposal for Social Security reform.
Thaler is currently Robert P. Gwinn Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics and Director of the Center for Decision Research, Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago. He is also Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research (co-director with Robert Shiller of the Behavioral Economics Project, funded by the Russell Sage Foundation).
Cass R. Sunstein was born in 1954. He graduated in 1975 from Harvard College and in 1978 from Harvard Law School magna cum laude. After graduation, he clerked for Justice Benjamin Kaplan of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and Justice Thurgood Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court. Before joining the faculty of the University of Chicago Law School, he worked as an attorney-advisor in the Office of the Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice. Mr. Sunstein has testified before congressional committees on many subjects, and he has been involved in constitution-making and law reform activities in a number of nations, including Ukraine, Poland, China, South Africa, and Russia. A member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, Mr. Sunstein has been Samuel Rubin Visiting Professor of Law at Columbia, visiting professor of law at Harvard, vice-chair of the ABA Committee on Separation of Powers and Governmental Organizations, chair of the Administrative Law Section of the Association of American Law Schools, a member of the ABA Committee on the future of the FTC, and a member of the President's Advisory Committee on the Public Service Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters.
Mr. Sunstein is a member of the Department of Political Science as well as the Law School. He is author of many articles and a number of books, including After the Rights Revolution: Reconceiving the Regulatory State (1990), Constitutional Law (co-authored with Geoffrey Stone, Louis M. Seidman, and Mark Tushnet) (1995), The Partial Constitution (1993), Democracy and the Problem of Free Speech (1993), Legal Reasoning and Political Conflict (1996), Free Markets and Social Justice (1997), Administrative Law and Regulatory Policy (1998) (with Justice Stephen Breyer and Professor Richard Stewart and Matthew Spitzer), One Case At A Time (1999), Behavioral Law and Economics (editor, 2000), Designing Democracy: What Constitutions Do (2001), Republic.com (2001), Risk and Reason (2002), The Cost-Benefit State (2002), Punitive Damages: How Juries Decide (2002), Why Societies Need Dissent (2003), The Second Bill of Rights (2004), and Laws of Fear: Beyond the Precautionary Principle (2005). He is now working on various projects involving the relationship between law and human behavior.
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