You’re about to make a terrible mistake! (book recs)

Book recommendations Decision intelligence Behvioral economics Decision analysis

Here are my favorite books on making better decisions (and avoiding terrible mistakes!)

Tomás Aragón (California Department of Public Health)

Decision making is our most important daily activity. Decisions drive vision, strategy, execution, problem solving, performance, evaluation, and continuous improvement. Decisions can be rapid and guided by experience and intuition, or they can be the product of a slow, deliberative process, usually by teams. So, what is a decision?

“A decision is a choice between two or more alternatives that involves an irrevocable allocation of resources” [1]. Every decision has a causal assumption, a prediction, and an opportunity cost. The opportunity cost is the lost benefit of the better option not chosen or not considered. The most common decision we make everyday is how we spend our time and with whom we spend it.

Most decisions are automatic and influenced by intuition. Occasionally, we slow down to deliberate in teams and we are influenced by our intuition, non-conscious cognitive processes, group psychology, power dynamics, and politics.

In spite of the importance of decision making, few are trained on how to make better decisions. I am often asked what are my favorite decision books. To promote better decision making I list several here in their primary category.

Please send me your favorite decision book recommendations and why to like them.


  1. Hess E. Humility is the New Smart: Rethinking Human Excellence in the Smart Machine Age. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, a BK Business Book; 2017. Introduction to the critical importance of humility, especially intellectual humility, having self-awareness, receiving accurate feedback, listening, learning, improving, and building trust.
  2. Grant A. Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know. Viking (February 2, 2021) “Think Again is a must-read for anyone who wants to create a culture of learning and exploration, whether at home, at work, or at school… In an increasingly divided world, the lessons in this book are more important than ever.” —Bill and Melinda Gates

Behavioral economics

  1. Sibony O. You’re About to Make a Terrible Mistake: How Biases Distort Decision-Making and What You Can Do to Fight Them. Little, Brown Spark (July 14, 2020). Covers nine common decision-making traps – and learn practical tools for avoiding them – in this “masterful,” research-based guide from a professor of strategic thinking
  2. Sunstein C. Wiser: Getting Beyond Groupthink to Make Groups Smarter. Harvard Business Review Press; First Edition (December 23, 2014). How to use behavioral economics to improve team decisions.
  3. Kahneman D. Thinking, Fast and Slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st edition (March 1, 2013). Classic, transformational book from a pioneer in behavioral economics.

Strutured decision making

  1. Anne Duke. How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices. Portfolio; Illustrated edition (October 13, 2020). Brilliant, practical introduction to decision making that integrates cognitive psychology, probability, and practical tools
  2. Anne Duke. Thinking in Bets: Making Smarter Decisions When You Don’t Have All the Facts. Portfolio; Reprint edition (May 7, 2019). This is the original book on decision making by Anne Duke.
  3. Hammond JS, Keeney RL, Raiffa H. Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions. Crown Business; 2002. Classic book on making better decisions when faced with multiple competing objectives and trade-offs.
  4. Keeney R. Give Yourself a Nudge: Helping Smart People Make Smarter Personal and Business Decisions. Cambridge University Press; 2020. This book extends the Hammond book and includes how to influence others’ decisions that impact you.

Crisis decision making

  1. Roberto MA. Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer: Managing for Conflict and Consensus. FT Press; 2nd edition (September 25, 2015). How leaders can build consensus and make decisions in the face of disasters. Reviews catastrophic decisions and how to avoid them.
  2. Marcus LJ, McNulty EJ, Henderson JM, Dorn BC. You’re It: Crisis, Change, and How to Lead When It Matters Most. PublicAffairs (March 16, 2021). Comprehensive framework for how to lead during disasters. Based on empirical research during actual disasters.

Decision analysis


  1. Spetzler C, Winter H, Meyer J. Decision Quality: Value creation from Better Business Decisions. Wiley; 2016. Covers the basics of decision analysis including how to avoid cognitive biases.


  1. Soc HC, Higgins MC, Owens DK. Medical Decision Making. Publisher : Wiley-Blackwell; 2nd edition (July 29, 2013). Classic book in clinical decision analysis
  2. Myriam Hunink, MG. Decision Making in Health and Medicine. Cambridge University Press; 2nd edition (October 16, 2014). Classic book in clinical decision analysis


  1. Abbas AE, Howard RA. Foundations of Decision Analysis. Pearson; 1st edition (March 19, 2015). Serious introduction to decision analysis from a pioneer in the field (Ronald A. Howard).
  2. Fenton N, Neil M. Risk Assessment and Decision Analysis with Bayesian Networks. Chapman and Hall/CRC; 2nd edition (September 12, 2018) Introduction to decision analysis using Bayesian networks. For background see Population health thinking with Bayesian networks.

Leadership competencies

  1. Marquet LD. Leadership is Language: The Hidden Power of What You Say—and What You Don’t. Portfolio / Penguin; 2020. Practical tools for leading teams under adversity. Concrete focus on the language we use to motivate and empower others.
  2. Edmondson AC. The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth. Wiley; 2018. Reviews the science of psychological safety and its critical role in decision-making, learning, and continuous improvement.*
  3. Pearl J, Mackenzie D. The Book of Why: The New Science of Cause and Effect. Basic Books; Reprint Edition (August 25, 2020), ISBN-13: 978-1541698963. Conceptual intro- duction to causal thinking, reasoning, and inference. This book should be required reading for all public health and medical professionals.
Howard RA, Abbas AE. Foundations of decision analysis. 1st ed. Pearson; 2015.



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BibTeX citation

  author = {Aragón, Tomás},
  title = {Tomás Aragón (blog): You're about to make a terrible mistake! (book recs)},
  url = {},
  year = {2021}