“Decisive” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath


The “Magic 8-ball” on the cover says it all: “Signs Suggest Yes” and “Maybe Not.” Sometimes we don’t know how to make decisions, or we look for a sign that we are making the right decision.

“Our decisions will never be perfect, but they can be better. Bolder. Wiser. The right process can steer us toward the right choice,” encourage Chip and Dan Heath in their book, “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work” (2013). The business professor and social entrepreneur have teamed up to write a book about a 4-step process for making better choices and inspiring more confidence in our choices.

“Decisive” is practical, helpful, and easy to understand. There are real-world situations and some good ideas for responding to “dilemmas.” Each chapter ends with a helpful summary of ideas. There is recommended reading real-world situations and obstacles, and thorough end notes.

The book warns about the “spotlight” effect that makes it easy for us to jump to conclusions and make quick decisions based on the information we have, without considering alternative perspectives and other information. It points out the 4 villains of decision-making: narrow framing, confirmation bias, short-term emotion, and overconfidence, and discusses ways to make better decisions.

To me, the most insightful research was that corporate executives favor prediction and planning, while entrepreneurs favor testing and experimentation. The most scary revelation: we prefer familiar things, and will have more positive opinions of people and things just from “mere exposure.”

To help us make better decisions, the Heath brothers have come up with a 4-step process called WRAP. It stands for Widen Your Options, Reality-Check, Attain Distance, and Prepare to be Wrong.

1. You encounter a choice. The challenge: narrow framing makes you miss options.
A better response: WIDEN YOUR OPTIONS. Instead of asking, “Should I go to the party?” ask “What could I do instead?” Instead of asking, “Which stereo should I buy?” ask “What else could I buy with this money?
Frame your choices as “AND” instead of “OR.” Ask “What else can I do?” instead of “Whether or not?” Other questions to ask yourself: What will you give up (money, time) when you make a decision? Imagine that your current options disappeared – what could you do? Multitrack – consider multiple options simultaneously (but not too many!) that are meaningfully distinct. Find someone who’s solved your problem. If it’s a decision that you make over and over again, create a playlist to discover new options each time a similar question arises.

2. You analyze your options. The challenge: the confirmation bias leads you to gather self-serving information.
A better response: REALITY-CHECK YOUR ASSUMPTIONS. Instead of assuming the worst about people, assume they meant well and even keep a diary of positive actions. Instead of replying on reports and statistics, talk to the people directly involved or use the products yourself. Instead of relying only on job interviews, give candidates a trial run.
Make it easier for people to disagree with you. Ask questions that could reveal contrary information. Consider the opposite of your initial instincts, by playing devil’s advocate or asking “What would have to be true?” Identify your assumptions in relationships and business, and test 1 of them to see if it is true. Look at both the big picture and the close up view.

3. You make a choice. The challenge: short-term emotion tempts you to make the wrong choice.
A better response: ATTAIN DISTANCE BEFORE DECIDING. Instead of making quick decisions, ask yourself, “What would I tell my best friend to do?” or “What would my successor do?”  Instead of deciding whether or not to quit a stressful job, speak with trusted friends and advisers, and ask for other options, like finding ways to limit stress and boost happiness.
Think about your decisions on 3 different time frames, such as 10/10/10 (10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years). Be careful of our fear of loss and comfort with the familiar – it will tempt us to keep the status quo.

4. You live with your decision. The challenge: you’ll often be overconfident about how the future will unfold.
A better response: PREPARE TO BE WRONG. Instead of waiting until a project has failed, imagine yourself in the future and ask “Why did this happen?” Then build in a safety factor, such as extra time, extra money, or extra features. Instead of waiting for employees to become unhappy, set realistic expectations from the start, including all the “negative” aspects of the job.
“Bookend” the future by considering the extremes – a dire scenario and a rosy (unexpected success) scenario. Set tripwires (deadlines, partition/portion actions, or budget limits) so that periodically you remember that you need to make another decision (even if it is to continue on your course).

Visit their website for a one-page summary of the WRAP decision-making process (registration may be required). And if you try the WRAP decision-making process, post a comment on this page and let us know whether you made better decisions. 

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