How do we know if we have made a good decision? The most recent book by Chip and Dan Heath is about this exact thing, making decisions, and making them better. I really enjoyed the Heath brothers’ two previous books, Made to Stick and Switch. When their new one came out, I was very interested in reading about the research behind solid decision making. I recently had to confront some big decisions, which included the decision to move into a larger training space. After working through the decision process, now is not the right time for me to expand, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen in the near future. Let’s look at a few of the important tips that the Heath brothers mention in their book.
Gut decisions and rigorous analysis aren’t the best options for decision making. Research showed that a good decision process was more important than analysis, by a factor of six. There are the four evil villains of decision making which you must be weary of. They include the following:
- Narrow Framing- only considering limited options
- Confirmation Bias- seeking out only the information that confirms our own beliefs
- Short Term Emotion- Allowing ourselves to be overcome by emotions that will eventually fade
- Overconfidence- we often have too much faith in our own predictions
There is a decision process that is helpful in overcoming these four villains, and it’s known as the WRAP process. Here’s what it involves:
- Widen Your Options- Consider multiple options or find someone who has solved your problem
- Reality Test Your Assumptions- Consider the opposite, zoom in/zoom out, and run small experiments to test your theories
- Attain Distance Before Deciding- Honor your core priorities
- Prepare to be Wrong- Bookend the future, set a tripwire, and trust in the process
To avoid narrow framing and to widen our options, we should consider multiple options. It doesn’t have to be a “this or that” decision, think of it as a “this and that” decision. If you only consider one option, it’s more likely that your ego will get locked into it and there is even less chance that you will consider anything else. To avoid decision paralysis, it’s best to consider 2 to 3 options, and beyond that, it may be too overwhelming and time consuming. Try toggling between the pursuit of positive options and the avoidance of negative ones. Watch out for “sham” options, which are really “no options” disguised as real options. You can also look to others who have solved a problem similar to yours. Look at the places where success can be found,even in the midst of failure, also known as bright spots. The following is an example they use in the book. If you are looking to be more active and get more exercise, instead of looking at all the times you skipped your workouts, look at the few times in a month you did it (hopefully there were a few). What was different? Why were you successful those times? There are a whole lot of people out there who have probably faced the same decision you have, don’t hesitate to use their example to guide you.
To help combat confirmation bias, we need to reality test our assumptions. The authors claim we seek self serving information, so we must consider the opposite. We can ask disconfirming questions to gather better information. An example for iPod buyers would be, what kind of problems does the iPod have? We can also make a deliberate mistake to test our assumptions. A research team interviewed people exiting the office where they were picking up their marriage license, and found out that 20% of the people didn’t like their spouse when they initially met them. Surprised by this outcome, a couple of single women from the research team decided to give a man they had rejected in the past, the opportunity to go out on a date with them. The majority of them confirmed what they already believed to be true, they were not a good potential mate, but one woman ended up marrying the man. It can help to get both an outside view and a close up view of a specific option. For an outside view, see if you can gather data about similar situations or contact an expert. Along with that outside view, obtain a close up one too. A man suffering from an illness had to make a tough decision between forgoing a medical procedure and dealing with the prognosis of only having 6 years to live, or having to endure a rather brutal medical procedure, that if he survived, could save his life. He gathered data about those who had the surgery, and those who didn’t, but for the close up, he talked with an actual patient. We can run small experiments to test our assumptions, and the authors refer to this as” ooching”. It’s not great for something that requires total commitment, but making baby steps forward to test a decision can be really helpful since we are so poor at predicting the future.
Identifying your core priorities will help you deal with short term emotion. Core priorities are long term emotional values, goals, and aspirations. If you are feeling conflicted when making a decision, there is often a conflict among your core priorities. So the goal is not to eliminate emotion completely, but to pay attention to the emotions that count. The most important step here is to establish your core priorities, and that is most often neglected. Make your core priorities the most important and try to reduce any lesser ones. Jim Collins, the author of many business books including Good to Great, advises people to create a “stop-doing list” to open up time for the important things. Peter Bregman, a productivity adviser and blogger for the Harvard Business Review asks himself when an hourly beeper goes off at work, “Am I doing what I most need to be doing right now?”
We have tendency as humans to be overconfident, we must prepare to be wrong or face making poor decisions. There are a couple of ways we can deal with our overconfidence. One of them is to bookend the future. Anticipate and prepare for both adversity and success. What would they both look like? At times we can easily slip into autopilot and never question any of our past decisions, to see if we can find a better way. Trip wires can be a useful tool to snap us awake and allow us an acceptable amount of risk in our decision making. It is a way of putting a cap on a risk. For example, I will not invest more then $10,000 into a business start up. If I reach that point without any success, that’s my tripwire to move on. Trusting in a process will open up the freedom for us to take more risks, and have the potential to reach greater success.
The authors go into greater details on strategy in the WRAP process. I find it very useful when they explain the process in terms of real life decisions that people have had to make. Overall, it’s an excellent book and it’s useful for anyone who has to make decisions (pretty much everyone), and it can also help you make better decisions. I will leave it up to you to get the book and read the rest if it has peaked your interest. For the future, I wish you the best in your own decision making!