Book Notes: Decisive

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Decision making is hard and humans are not good at it. as just one example from the world or work where 83% of high stake decisions (aka takeovers) don’t return any increase in value to shareholders – no doubt that huge amounts of analysis were done but if the process of making the decision is floored no amount of analysis will fix that.

Process matters more than analysis – by a factor of six

When making decision there are four factors which strongly influence

  1. Narrow framing – this means we miss options. Such as asking the OR question – do we do this OR that? Instead think if there is a way we can do this AND that? Are there more creative ways to solve the problem? Widen your options
  2. Confirmation Bias – people select data which supports their idea or aim, sometimes this is intentional sometimes it is not. Reality test your assumptions
  3. Short-term emotions – focusing on the here and now rather than on the long term. Attain distance before deciding
  4. Overly confidence in our own predictions – to the point of ignoring data which would reduce our confidence. Prepare to be wrong

Widen your options

  • Multi track – is there a way that you can try out multiple different approaches concurrently? By doing them concurrently and not incrementally you come up with a more diverse set of options, not just smaller changes. It is also good for peoples egos to realise there are multiple solutions not just the one they came up with originally. Toggle between the prevention (avoiding negative outcomes) and promotion (pursuing positive outcomes) mindsets. Try coming up with a playlist for stimulating new ideas which you can reuse.
  • Find people who have already solved the problem – these could be external companies or internal “bright spots”. Try different levels of abstraction e.g. for a swimwear manufacturing the lowest level is by looking at smooth materials but by moving to a more abstract level of “things which move fast in water” opens your eyes to ways other (even nature) has already solved these problems.

Reality test your assumptions

  • Consider the Opposite – How can you bring this into the process – such as the role of devil’s advocate? As the question “What would have to be true for this to be the very best choice?”. Ask disconfirming questions e.g. “what do people leave your company?”. Use more open questions to get broader information rather than closed questions in one particular direction. How can we keep our yes open for the opposite to our expectations e.g. a happiness diary if we are feeling down. Can we test our assumptions with a deliberate mistake? These require discipline to not be blind to.
  • Zoom out, zoom in – We don’t tend to seek reviews for our most important decisions. The inside view is our evaluation of our specific situation, the outside view is how things generally unfold in similar situations – the outside view is more accurate but we tend to use the internal. Get a base rate, either from known research or ask experts for their historical experience – don’t ask them to predict as experts tend to be poor at predictions. Take a close up view as well, put yourself right in the action to get a close up view. We should do both the zoomed out and close up view.
  • Ooch – try it out, run small experiments and see what you learn. Ooching is not always the right thing to do but where a small amount of learning is useful it is hugely beneficial.

Attain distance before deciding

  • Overcome short-term emotions – We tend to make decisions with only a short term focus, not a long term one. Ask the question how would you feel in 10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years? to get perspective. We like things which are familiar to us and we don’t like losing things – these are short term feelings which need to be overcome else you will continue in the status quo. “What would your sucessor do?” “What would a friend advice?”
  • Honor your core priorities – long term emotional values, goals, aspiration – what kind of person/organisation do we want to be? By enshrining these you can quickly answer many questions. Ensure we stick to our core priorities – get things off this list long term (e.g. working out how you can permanently resolve issues), have a stop-doing list to remind you of things which are distractions to avoid, have an hourly beep test to check you are doing something on the to-do list.

Prepare to be wrong

  • Bookend the Future – The future is not a point it is a range, so how would you deal with different scenarios. A premortem is a positive way to identify the things which may go wrong and to work to avoid them occurring. A preparade is a way to identify what would happen if things go well (e.g. running out of parts).
  • Set a tripwire – How can we be actively notified when things are moving in one way or another so that we can actively make decisions, not just for a point in time to pass us by and for a now out of date decision to still be in place.
  • Trusting the Process – Decisions made by groups must be fair. Collaborating on a decision results in a better result – this takes more time upfront but is quicker during implementation. We need to be actively taking part in the process for it to be fair. Process does not sound fun but it allows for the making of bigger and more successful choices.

In general consider the WRAP process of

  • Widen your options
  • Reality test your assumptions
  • Attain distance before deciding
  • Prepare to be wrong

1 thought on “Book Notes: Decisive

  1. One of my favourite stories from this book:

    Alfred Sloan, the longtime CEO and Chairman of General Motors, once interrupted a committee meeting with a question: “Gentlemen I take it we are all in complete agreement on this decision here?” All the committee members nodded. “Then,” Sloan said, “I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what this decision is about.”

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