“Decision-making and Action” (2012) Jean-Charles Pomerol


The book “Decision-making and Action” by Jean-Charles Pomerol, professor of computer science at Université Pierre et Marie Curie of Paris, was first published in 2012. The name of the book reflects its main idea, that any effective decision-making comes with an action. The potential reader who might benefit from reading the book holds a managerial position in an organization and has a passion to go beyond simplistic management theories to learn the foundation of decision-making. There are a lot of handbooks that instruct how to manage or lead people, but Pomerol’s book comprehensively covers whole theoretical approaches of decision theory, computer science, neurobiology, multicriterion decision aid, and psychology, to give recommendations how to make good decisions. But the breadth of topics comes at a price of depth and specification of arguments. A reader should either have pre-knowledge about these theories, as they are explained only briefly, or consult with the bibliography to understand what the author refers to. The bibliography extensively covers the wide scope of literature across the last quarter of the twentieth century, with the preference for citing such scholars as Simon, Kahneman, Tversky, and Savage.

The chapters devoted to neurobiology, computer science, and psychology are a nice review of the state of the art written in an interesting, lively, and transparent way, but the later chapters about organizational decision-making may confuse a reader looking for empirical proofs of a theory. For instance, in chapter 8 Pomerol describes a distinction between slow and fast decision-makers that can be attributed to personality characteristics. The lack of any empirical evidence from psychological research for the existence of these two categories casts reasonable doubt on this delineation.

The book is still worth reading to understand what opinion computer science scholars hold about psychology. When Pomerol refers to psychological knowledge, he occasionally presents it without going too much into detail. The author utilizes the research of Daniel Kahneman as a main source of information and the concept of heuristics as a main achievement of psychology. These subjective constraints have left other psychological models of decision-making (diffusion, network-based) outside of the book.

Discussing the definition of leadership, Pomerol does not take into account a vast stream of situational theories, and comes to the conclusion that “a leader is someone who encourages his listeners to dream (vision) when he speaks – preferably when speaking to crowds!” (p.188). Unfortunately, the reduction of the leadership term to oratorical abilities does not help shed light on the decision-making strategies of a leader.

At the end, the author discusses what is more important in decision-making – thinking or acting – and ends up with the idea that both of them are equally significant. It may sound like solid advice for a manager, but just confuses a researcher due to the lack of clear explanation and empirical validation of relationships between decision and action.

Nevertheless, Pomerol’s book is a practical and comprehensive guide for people who would like to know more about the theoretical background of the decision-making theory and be able to make sense of it in terms of useful recommendations.