A Smart Choice For Insight Into Decisions
From our career choices to significant business decisions, the evidence highlighted in Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, is overwhelming: We often make wrong decisions.
Why are smart people (and teams) so bad at making decisions? As the Heaths explain, the normal decision process moves in four steps: 1) You encounter a choice; 2) You analyze your options; 3) You make a choice; 4) You live with that choice. Unfortunately, write the Heaths, "there is a villain that afflicts each of these stages."
The Four Villains
When we encounter a choice, write the Heaths, we tend to frame the issue narrowly and in binary terms. For example: Should I keep an employee or fire him or her? This narrow framing, however, makes us miss other potential options. Perhaps the employee can be reassigned to another position that better fits his or her skills.
Likewise, when we analyze our options, we often only look for information that confirms our assumptions and predispositions rather than truly looking for the best information that will reveal the right choice. In the third step of the process, when we make the choice, we let short-term emotions guide our decision instead of using the information we have wisely. Finally, we confidently live with the bad choices that we make because we firmly believe that we know what will happen in the future. Framing, confirmation bias, short-term emotion and overconfidence about the future, according to the authors, are the four villains of decision making that lead us to the wrong choices.
The WRAP Process
In Decisive, the Heath brothers offer a clear step-by-step process for defeating the four villains. The authors’ first step is to widen your options — to overcome the tendency to narrowly frame issues into binary options. One solution is to multitrack, that is, to actively pursue several options at the same time. The second step is to reality-test your assumptions rather than just looking for confirmation of your preset ideas. One suggestion is to ensure that decision making includes a "devil’s advocate" step in which counter arguments are considered.
The third step in the anti-bias process is to attain distance before deciding. By giving yourself some distance from the decision, you can diffuse the short-term emotion that might lead you to the wrong choice. Finally, the fourth step in combating the four villains is to prepare to be wrong. Plan for an uncertain future rather than believing that you can see into the crystal ball.
This four-step process (Widen your options; Reality-test your assumptions; Attain distance before deciding; Prepare to be wrong) is summarized in the acronym WRAP, which, the authors note, conveys a "process that ‘wraps’ around your usual way of making decisions, helping to protect you from some of the biases we’ve identified." As in their two previous bestsellers, Switch and Made to Stick, the Heaths build on extensive academic research to create an engaging, focused process for resolving the issue at hand. Since there is no more important an issue for any of us than making the right choices at the right time, however, Decisive is a book that should reach far beyond the business audience.
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