Professor Howard Raiffa, a co-founder of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and a member of Harvard’s business school faculty for 37 years, passed away last week at age 92. Younger academics in our field may not remember Prof. Raiffa, but he was recognized as the founder of the field we call decision science. His original work encompassed negotiating techniques, conflict resolution, risk analysis and game theory.
Raiffa was an innovative theoretician, but he applied his ideas to real-world cases of conflict, cooperation and compromise in planning curricula, publishing guidebooks and making videos. He was also the founding director, in 1972, of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, a joint U.S.-Soviet organization that explored energy, pollution and other issues as a cooperative venture during the Cold War.
Among his 11 books were Games and Decisions: Introduction and Critical Survey, Applied Statistical Decision Theory (which I studied from in grad school), The Art and Science of Negotiation, Decision Analysis, and Smart Choices: A Practical Guide to Making Better Decisions.
The best practical advice, Professor Raiffa wrote, is “to maximize your expected payoff, which is the sum of all payoffs multiplied by probabilities.” He explained that “the art of compromise centers on the willingness to give up something in order to get something else in return.” Raiffa’s negotiation analysis course became one of the most popular at Harvard. In it, his thrust was not simply “how to win,” but how to create joint value.