The power of three little red books

Anne-Marie Chisnall | May 19, 2016

The way we make decisions is influenced by so many factors. In the workplace, for example, we’re influenced by things like regulations, policies, and guidelines.

Some of the factors that come into play when we make decisions are almost beyond our control. They’re not written in a manual, but somehow we find them when we need them. Psychologists call these ‘heuristics’. They’re mental shortcuts that help us streamline our decision-making and get through our complex lives.

I found three little red books in our office library that shed some light on the way we make decisions. Each of the authors draws on psychology and behavioural science, along with many other disciplines. Some of it is surprising stuff.

Image, The three little red books from our office bookshelf.

Giving a nudge in the right direction

First up is Nudge: Improving decisions about health, wealth and happiness by Richard H Thaler and Cass R Sunstein. This book talks about how the decisions we make in all areas of our lives can be influenced for good — and not so good — by taking into account how we think and how we react to situations. Choices are never presented in a neutral way, and our go-to heuristics can be drawn on before we realise what’s happening.

Designing for good

The second of the little red trio is David B Berman’s Do Good Design: How design can change the world. David alerts us to how persuasive design can be. Design can play with our decision-making, and sometimes we don’t realise how we’re being manipulated. Do Good Design makes the case for ethics and etiquette in design.

Checking that we’re on the right track

The third little red book from our shelf is Atul Gawande’s The Checklist Manifesto: How to get things right. We can support our decision-making by breaking down complex procedures and using checklists for key steps. Checklists help to overcome some of our natural failings as human beings when faced with life-and-death decisions — or just with the things we do in everyday business.

What’s the connection between plain language and heuristics?

Every document you write has an effect on your reader. To get your reader’s attention, you need to pay attention to the hidden factors that influence their reactions. And that doesn’t just mean giving your document a red cover. Applying plain language principles will go a long way to treating your reader well and making their decision-making easier.

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