Stop making dodgy decisions
Career choices are often abandoned or regretted, business decisions are frequently flawed, and on the personal front we are not much better at making decisions, according to Chip Heath and Dan Heath in their book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. We have a hard time making good choices. We suffer from biases and irrationality, and when it comes to making decisions our brains are flawed instruments.
So, what steps can we take to improve the quality of our decision making processes? The authors identify four “villains of decision making” (narrow framing, confirmation bias, short-term emotion and overconfidence), and then propose a four-step process to reduce the effect of these flaws and improve the likelihood of better decisions:
- Widen your options: Instead of focusing on current options, generate more options, consider multiple options simultaneously, and find someone who has solved a similar problem in an analogous field.
- Reality-test your assumptions: Instead of looking for information which confirms your assumptions, ask questions which might tend to disprove your assumptions, “zoom out” to consider how things generally unfold in similar situations, “zoom in” to examine specific precedents, and run small experiments to test your theories.
- Attain some distance: Imagine your future emotional reactions as well as your present ones, look at your situation from an observer’ perspective, and identify and follow your core priorities.
- Prepare to be wrong: Rather than predicting a single future, identify a bad outcome and a good one and prepare for both, use deadlines and tripwires to limit your exposure and create a safe space for risk taking, and when making decisions that affect others use a process that incorporates procedural justice.
As is the case with other books written by the Heath brothers, this book is well researched and filled with engaging stories. The authors’ suggestions for improving decision making seem fairly simple and obvious when viewed in isolation, but together they constitute a useful framework for decision makers. Most people who have made a lot of decisions have become aware of their fallibility, but they lack a language and framework for understanding and addressing the most common weaknesses in their decision processes. That is why this book will be a very helpful resource.