Decisive: A Guide to Good Decisions

Decisive by Heath Brothers has great insights on how to make good decisions and resolve disputes.

Much of the book is focused on inspiring groups to make better decisions. But, in most cases, the guidance can be applied to individual choices, too: “What car to buy”, “whether to accept a new job”, “whether or not to start your own business.”

Here’s some of the best advice from the book. Keep the WRAP framework (more on this later) in mind next time you have to make an important decision — the quality of your decision will be greatly improved.

Any time in life you’re tempted to think, ‘Should I do this OR that?’ instead, ask yourself, ‘Is there a way I can do this AND that? — Chip Heath

The Four Villains of Decision Making

  1. You encounter a choice. But narrow framing makes you miss options. Should I do this or that? Instead, ask yourself, is there a way I can do this AND that?
  2. You analyze your options. But the confirmation bias leads you to gather self-serving info. You often look for data that supports what you think versus looking for data for risks or that contradicts what you think.
  3. You make a choice. But short-term emotion will often tempt you to make the wrong one. Intel losing memory business market cap. Grove and CEO asked themselves: what would their successor do? — “they will Get us out of memory business and focus on microprocessor”. Short term pressures and political wrangling clouded his mind and obscured the long term need to exit the memory business.
  4. Then you live with it. But you’ll often be overconfident about how the future will unfold.

Introducing the WRAP Framework for better decisions

  • Widen Your Options
  • Reality-Test Your Assumptions
  • Attain Distance Before Deciding
  • Prepare to Be Wrong

How to Avoid a Narrow Frame

  1. Teenagers get trapped in a narrow frame. They are blind to their choices. “Should I go to the party or not?”
  2. Often our options are far more plentiful than we think. College-selection counselor price helps students explore their full range of options.
  3. Why do we get stuck in a narrow frame? Focusing on our current options means that other things are out of our spotlight.
  4. To escape a narrow frame — think about the opportunity cost. Buy something now or Keep the $14.99 for other purchases
  5. Or try the Vanishing Options Test: What if your current options disappeared?

Multitrack — Widen Your Options

  1. Multitracking: consider more than one option simultaneously
  2. When you consider multiple options simultaneously, you learn the “shape” of the problem. When designers created ads simultaneously, they scored higher on creativity and effectiveness.
  3. Multitracking also keeps egos in check — and can actually be faster. When you develop only one option, your ego is tied up in it.
  4. While decision paralysis may be a concern for people who consider many options, we’re pushing for only one or two extra. And the payoff can be huge.
  5. Beware “sham options”. If people on your team disagree about the options, you have real options.
  6. Toggle between the prevention (avoiding negative outcomes) and promotion (pursuing positive outcomes) mindsets. Companies who used both mindsets performed much better after a recession.
  7. Push for “this AND that” rather than “this or that.”

Reality-Test Your Assumptions — Find Someone Who’s Solved Your Problem

  1. When you need more options but feel stuck, look for someone who’s solved your problem.
  2. Look outside: competitive analysis, benchmarking, best practices.
  3. To be proactive, encode your greatest hits in a decision “playlist.” A checklist stops people from making an error; a playlist stimulates new ideas.
  4. A third place to look for ideas: in the distance. Ladder up via analogies.

Consider the Opposite

  1. Confirmation bias: hunting for information that confirms our initial assumptions (which are often self-serving).
  2. To gather more trustworthy information, we can ask disconfirming questions. iPod buyers: “What problems does the iPod have?”
  3. Caution: Probing questions can backfire in situations with a power dynamic. Use open-ended questions.
  4. Extreme disconfirmation: Can we force ourselves to consider the opposite of our instincts? “Assuming positive intent” spurs us to interpret someone’s actions/words in a more positive light.
  5. We can even test our assumptions with a deliberate mistake. One woman actually marries her “mistake”
  6. Because we naturally seek self-confirming information, we need the discipline to consider the opposite.

Zoom Out, Zoom In

  1. Often we trust “the averages” over our instincts — but not as much as we should. We trust the horrible reviews of a Resort. But we don’t always seek reviews for our most important decisions (new job, college major).
  2. The inside view — our evaluation of our specific situation. The outside view — how things generally unfold in situations like ours. The outside view is more accurate, but most people gravitate toward the inside the view.
  3. If you can’t find the “base rate” for your decision, ask an expert. You might ask an IP lawyer: “What percentage of cases get settled before trial?”

Ooch

  1. Ooching = running small experiments to test our theories. Rather than jumping in headfirst, we dip a toe in. Physical therapy students volunteer for at least a hundred hours before they enroll.
  2. Ooching is particularly useful because we’re terrible at predicting the future.
  3. Entrepreneurs ooch naturally. Rather than create business forecasts, they go out and try things.
  4. Caveat: Ooching is counterproductive for situations that require commitment.
  5. Common hiring error: We try to predict success via interviews. We should ooch instead. Studies show that interviews are less diagnostic than work samples, peer ratings, etc. Can you nix the interview and offer a short-term consulting contract?

Overcome Short-Term Emotion — Attain Distance Before Deciding

  1. Fleeting emotions tempt us to make decisions that are bad in the long term. Car salesmen are trained to prey on customers’ emotions to close a deal quickly.
  2. To overcome distracting short-term emotions, we need to attain some distance.
  3. Our decisions are often altered by two subtle short-term emotions: (1) mere exposure: we like what’s familiar to us; and (2) loss aversion: losses are more painful than gains are pleasant.
  4. Loss aversion + mere exposure = status-quo bias.
  5. We can attain distance by looking at our situation from an observer’s perspective. Any Grove asked, “What would our successors do?” Adding distance highlights what is most important; it allows us to see the forest, not the trees.

Premortem and Perparade.

Imagine the future “death” of a project and ask “what killed it”?

Everyone on the team takes a few minutes to write down every conceivable reason for the project’s failure. The premortem, in essence, a way of charting out there lower bookend of future possibilities and plotting ways to avoid ending up there.

In addition to running premortems, we need to run preparade. A preparade asks us to consider success. Let’s say it’s a year from now and our decision has been a wild success. Given that future, how do we ensure that we’re ready for it?


That’s it. Keep the WRAP framework in mind next time you have to make an important decision in Life or Work — the quality of your decision will be greatly improved.

Get the book Decisive if you are interested in learning further.