Carmel Valley father and son co-author popular book ‘The Big Decision’

By Karen Billing

A Carmel Valley father and son have collaborated together on a new book, “The Big Decision,” a story and framework to inspire and empower better life decisions.

Daniel Friedland, MD, and his son, Zach, each wrote half of the book that is driven by Friedland’s “four-step framework,” a decision-making process he has taught to healthcare professionals, business leaders and clients of his company SuperSmartHealth.

The book was released on July 22 and has became a number one Kindle bestseller on in the parenting and teenagers category.

“I was really surprised that it took off so fast,” Zach said.

“It’s been a joy to watch the book start to take on a life of its own,” Daniel said.

Just as the book was written by father and son, it is the hope the book will be read by parents and children, teachers and students to hopefully “facilitate meaningful discussions,” Daniel said.

“The Big Decision” has also attracted some big attention.

In October, Zach, a Carmel Valley Middle School eighth grader, will be the youngest person not only to attend the Conscious Captitalism CEO Summit in Texas featuring some of the most influential CEOs in the country, but the 14-year-old will also share the stage with his father for a presentation on “The Big Decision.” Zach and his dad are on a list of speakers that includes trail-blazing CEOs such as Frank Blake of Home Depot; Walter Robb of Whole Foods; Ron Shaich of Panera Bread; and former Major League Baseball Manager Tony LaRussa.

“What are the odds that a 14-year-old out of Carmel Valley would present in this setting?” Daniel asked.

In prepping for this big presentation, Zach said he is not nervous and feels comfortable in front of large groups.

In Zach’s half of the book (11 chapters), he tells the story of Ryan, a second-string running back on a Pop Warner football team. After the starting running back is injured, the underdog Ryan steps up and has several big games for his team. Ryan then has to make a decision on whether to attend his team’s championship game or his favorite aunt’s wedding.

“Everybody is counting on Ryan for the championship game so it really loads the decision,” Daniel said.

“I’d never written anything like this before,” said Zach, but he drew inspiration from his own experience as a Torrey Pines Falcon running back and lacrosse player.

Daniel, a native of South Africa, has written books before. He wrote textbooks for McGraw Hill on evidence-based medicine, a process he teaches physicians.

In Daniel’s half of the book, he explains the brain science behind decision-making and how people can better train their brain and thinking with his four-step framework.

“The beauty about writing this book with Zach was as a dad, my greatest wish is to be able to give my kids meaningful life lessons as they emerge into manhood. Zach solved the problem himself in the book, working the four-step process,” Daniel said. “He came up with a beautiful, amazing ending.”

During the process of writing the book, Zach had an experience where he didn’t use his dad’s decision-making framework and made a poor choice. He was jumping off rocks at the beach in Del Mar, each time making bigger leaps. On one of those jumps he landed on concrete and injured his ankle, just before he was set to travel across country to compete in a lacrosse tournament in Maryland.

“Standing on that rock it feels good to go for it, but he wasn’t weighing the risks and rewards, taking a future long view,” Daniel said. “Usually a parent would be very upset but we never had that angry discussion. I asked him ‘What do you think about the decision you made?’”

In middle school and high school, teens will be faced with all kinds of decisions about things that may feel good in the short term (alcohol, drugs, sex) but may carry big consequences in the future — Daniel said it’s about giving teens the framework to make the right decisions.

Zach’s decision does have a happy ending — he took the advice of a doctor to go on a superfood, anti-inflammatory diet (cutting out all sugar and wheat) that helped heal his ankle in time to have a breakout tournament. Now it’s a health strategy he uses before all his big tournaments.

Since the book’s release, the pair had their first book signing at the Aspen Institute in Colorado where Daniel was a keynote speaker at a health symposium. He brought Zach and his youngest son, Dylan, on stage with him to tell the story about the new book and they all received a standing ovation. Zach then did a book signing — signing nearly 50 copies and swapping books with actress and author Mariel Hemingway.

This spring, Zach also worked with Lisa Wilken’s fifth grade class at Torrey Hills School on a four-week program about decision making.

“I was surprised to see that they got what we were talking about and how big some of the decisions they were already making were,” said Zach, noting one child was having to make a decision about which parent to live with after a divorce.

Zach plans to come back this year and work with a sixth grade class.

“I’d love to see the book used in curriculums in schools, it could go all the way to high school,” Daniel said. “Our mission is that we want individuals to feel inspired and empowered to make good decisions in their lives and really understand the process that goes around it. It has been a wonderful, joyous mission to work with Zach.”

Readers can watch a trailer for the book as well as order the book online at

  1. For more on Dr. Daniel Friedland, visit