Lesson One: Give Yourself A Nudge

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Ralph L. Keeney, author of Give Yourself a Nudge is an internationally recognized thought leader, consultant, researcher, and educator.

Keeney, author of Give Yourself a Nudge is a hiitide partner and his Online Book Club runs monthly on hiitide. Sign up now!

Meet The Author

Ralph Keeney specializes in the development, use, and dissemination of decision-making concepts and techniques that help policy makers, governments, businesses, and individuals facing important decisions to structure their decisions in a logical manner that will promote better decision-making.

Dr. Keeney has made significant contributions to the fields of decision analysis and value-focused thinking. He applies precepts from operations research, management science and the decision sciences to important and challenging decision problems. His work includes: theoretical, methodological, and procedural contributions to decision analysis, risk analysis, and value-focused thinking and their applications.

He promotes the decision sciences through education and speaking, and service.

More about author Ralph Keeney

Ralph Keeney was born in Lewistown, Montana. He loves the qualities of Montana – the wide-open spaces, the open kind people, the fierce independence and responsibility they show for themselves and their town and country. Ralph had an entrepreneurial childhood, beginning work at eight years old by working in a bowling alley (before the time of automated bowling pinsetting machines) where he was a human pinsetter, and then later as a paperboy.

He ended up managing some other paper boys and his first experience with winning an award was the time he won the Thanksgiving turkey for selling the most newspapers. He was very proud to be the family provider of the Thanksgiving feast that year!

In school, Ralph was known as one of the “smartest boys in town” and won a County Science Fair award for his project on math vectors, which led him to the State Science Fair in Missoula, Montana.

For his senior year in high school, he moved to Los Angeles and attended UCLA the next year. He studied engineering at UCLA. After college, he worked for Bell Labs in New Jersey and went to MIT for a Masters and PhD.

He met Professor Howard Raiffa of Harvard when Howard gave a seminar on Decision Analysis at MIT and Ralph became enthused about the topic of decision analysis and the idea of people learning to make good decisions. After taking Professor Raiffa’s decision analysis course at Harvard, he subsequently wrote his doctoral dissertation with Professor Raiffa as the advisor. That was the start of their many happy years of mentorship, colleagueship, and a deep personal friendship between the two men and their families.

After earning his PhD (1969), Ralph joined the MIT faculty for 5 years and taught for about 12 more years in a MIT summer program. Ralph has always been particularly proud of being part of the MIT Operations Research Center because operations research emphasizes applying theory to real world problems and this is a fundamental characteristic of Ralph’s thinking and academic career and consulting work.

When at MIT, Ralph learned the game of squash and began to play regularly. This became his “lifelong” sport.

On a one-year leave from MIT, Ralph began the first of many stints living in Germany and Austria, where he taught in Heidelberg, Germany for Boston University and began to learn the German language. In 1974, he resigned from MIT and accepted a two-year position in Austria at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), a scientific institute in a suburb of Vienna and located in a former “Hapsburg Castle”. Because of, and in spite of the “cold war”, this Institute brought scientists together from the east and west to work on problems common to industrial societies the world over. Professor Raiffa was the institute’s first director. During the years at IIASA, Ralph worked on some interesting research, increased his facility in the German language, helped establish a positive esprit de corps at IIASA, and also learned to ski which continues to be one of his favorite sports.

It was during a ski trip to Aspen, Colorado that Ralph met his wife, Janet. It was and is a very happy relationship, which as Ralph will tell you was made possible because both Ralph and Janet were there in Aspen to do something they loved doing – skiing. As Ralph will be quick to say, with strong common interests, the chances of meeting someone that you might like as a life partner are greatly increased.

Ralph and Janet are very fortunate to have a terrific son, Gregory Keeney.

Greg is himself an avid outdoorsman, Eagle Scout, skier, and squash player. He splits time between San Francisco and Washington DC, and works at a software company, OPENGOV.com.

Ralph has his office in San Francisco, and travels for consulting and intensive courses in value-focused thinking and decision science.

What is Give Yourself a Nudge?

Give Yourself a Nudge will show you how to discover the decisions you need to make to improve your business and your life — and how to be smarter when you make them.

For real success, you need a decision making process that looks at your values and objectives and you identify what decisions you can address before the world brings you a problem.

Based on over thirty years of experience gathered by studying decision-making and consulting with businesses and governments on many extremely complex challenging decisions, Ralph Keeney’s Give Yourself a Nudge will teach you the skills you need to obtain the ultimate advantage in business and in life: making smarter decisions. To see a collection of short videos about the book, click here.

Lesson One | Give Yourself  A Nudge | Personal Nudges

Welcome to the Give Yourself a Nudge Online Book Club!

Over the next 28 days, we’ll be reading and living the book Give Yourself a Nudge by Ralph Keeney. If you haven’t gotten your copy of the book yet, you can get one here!

Each week, we’ll read a section of the book and focus on a specific theme. Every day, you’ll have one or two lessons based on that book section and theme. You’ll watch videos, read extra content, and have the opportunity to practice the book’s principles with writing and action prompts. 

In this book club you’ll get strategies to build the life you want through a series of clear, empowered choices.

In this book club you’ll get essential skills to enhance your future with proactive decision opportunities.

What is a Personal Nudge?

In today’s reading, we learned that a nudge is a presentation of the available alternatives to a decision-maker designed to improve the chances that the decision-maker selects the alternative that best achieves his or her interests.

Many businesses nudge decision-makers in the way they present their alternatives. Recall the example the author used in chapter one about a university presenting nudges to its employees. The university gave the employees the option to enroll in a great retirement plan and all the enrollment required was filling out a few forms. The process seemed relatively simple, so it came as a surprise when only 55% of the new employees signed up for the plan. The university was obviously concerned about the 45% who chose not to enroll and wanted to see if they could do something to increase the likelihood that more employees would sign up. The next year they decided to present the retirement plan differently, in hopes that they could nudge more new employees to take part. This time, the retirement plan automatically enrolled new employees, unless the employee themselves signed forms that opted them out of the program. This time, around 90% of employees joined the retirement plan. 

All it took was one small change to the way the alternative was presented to nudge a much higher percentage of people toward making a smarter decision. As you can see, small nudges can make a HUGE difference in the outcome of a decision. This is just one of an infinite number of ways businesses nudge customers or employees into making a decision. 

Individual Nudges

The author defines a personal nudge as “a modification of the choice architecture for your decision that may influence the alternative that you eventually choose.” 

He promotes the idea that you have the power and opportunity to create the decisions that you wish to face.

Instead of waiting for others or outside circumstances to nudge you into a decision, you can begin to nudge yourself into making smarter decisions, starting now!

To start….. grab a journal, start a blank document, or type away in your saved notes…


  1. Do you intrinsically nudge yourself to do things? Or do you find that you frequently need external motivators/other people to tell you what to do before you start something new?
  2. What do you think might happen if you started taking initiative and began nudging yourself to make your own decisions, rather than waiting for other people or circumstances to nudge you into a decision?

Believe It to See It

Chapter 1 teaches us the idea that decision-making is a skill that can be practiced and improved, similar to playing a sport or driving a car. Unfortunately, most people are unaware of this fact so they never try to improve their decision-making abilities. 

Dr. Keeney explains it this way, “Few people have had training in decision-making, and fewer have thought about the notion of practicing to improve their decision-making skills.”

Belief is a powerful tool, which can be good or bad, depending on what we believe! What you choose to believe determines the quality of your life, because you cannot achieve something if you don’t first believe it can be done.

Your decision-making skills may be weak or they may be strong, depending on how much you’ve practiced, but it is a sure fact that you won’t try to improve these skills if you don’t first believe it can be done. Therefore, before we continue further along this journey, we need to make sure we believe we can improve our decision-making skills, regardless of our age, background, or any previous “bad” decisions we’ve made.

Today, we are going to take a look at some of the current beliefs you hold about your decision-making abilities. Don’t worry if you find you have some negative beliefs about your decision-making skills, because the first step toward any change is the awareness that a change needs to be made!

Grab that pen and paper again…

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rank your decision-making skills currently? (1 being extremely unskilled, 5 being average, 10 being a master decision-maker, or somewhere in-between).*Briefly explain your reasoning for your ranking in the question above.*
  2. Do you believe you have the power to improve your decision-making skills? Why or why not?


If you feel like you aren’t a great decision-maker currently, that is okay! Remember, decision-making is a skill and if we consistently practice, we are guaranteed to improve. Make a commitment to giving your best effort and believe that you will become a smarter decision-maker over the next four weeks!

Repeat this statement and then make a decision… “I commit to giving my best effort throughout the next four weeks and believing I will become a smarter decision-maker by the end of this book club:”

  • Yes
  • I will try
  • I’m not sure if I can yet

Agenda For the Entire Give Yourself A Nudge Online Book Club

Week 1: Owning Your Decisions

Week 2: Understanding the 3 Elements Essential to Any Decision

Week 3: Creating Decision Opportunities Proactively

Week 4: Enhancing the Quality of Your Life

Luke is someone who enjoys the useful application of knowledge through innovative technologies. In his past experience, he’s been a major part of building an AI children’s educational program. As a hiitide Curriculum Designer, he brings great valuable creative insight to the team.
Luke Height
hiitide Curriculum Designer

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