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Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work Hardcover – March 26, 2013
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Q&A with Chip Heath & Dan Heath
Q. People often feel overwhelmed by “Decisions, decisions, decisions …” What makes us so indecisive?
A. If you’re feeling indecisive, chances are you don’t have the right options yet. In the book we describe four key “villains” of decision-making—common traps and biases that psychologists have identified. One of them is called “narrow framing,” meaning that we tend to get stuck in one way of thinking about a dilemma, or we ignore alternatives that are available to us. With a little effort, we can break out of a narrow frame and widen our options. For instance, one expert we interviewed had a great quote: “Any time in life you’re tempted to think, ‘Should I do this OR that?,’ instead, ask yourself, ‘Is there a way I can do this AND that?’ It’s surprisingly frequent that it’s feasible to do both things.”
Q. You show that the same decision process can be applied to many domains—health decisions, career decisions, business decisions—but doesn’t a decision “process” take way too much time?
A. Not necessarily. In this book, we’re not interested in complex decision models or elaborate decision trees. Often the best advice is the simplest, for instance, the suggestion to “sleep on it.” That’s great advice—it helps to quiet short-term emotion that can disrupt our choices. But it still takes 8 hours, and it doesn’t always resolve our dilemmas. Many other decision aids require only a simple shift in attention. Doctors leaning toward a diagnosis are taught to check themselves by asking, “What else could this be?” And colleagues making a difficult group decision can ask, “What would convince us, six months down the road, to change our minds about this?”
Q. Why did you call the book Decisive?
A. Being decisive isn’t about making the perfect decision every time. That isn’t possible. Rather, it’s about being confident that we’ve considered the right things, that we’ve used a smart process. The two of us have met a lot of people who tell us they agonize endlessly about their decisions. They get stuck in a cycle where they just keep spinning their wheels. To escape that cycle, we often need a shift in perspective. We describe a simple technique used by former Intel chief Andy Grove to resolve one of the toughest business decisions he ever faced, one that he and his colleagues had debated for over a year. And what was this profound technique? Nothing fancier than a single, provocative question! In the book we also highlight a second question, inspired by Grove’s technique, that can often resolve personal decisions quickly and easily.
Q. So how do I help my teenage son not to make a bad choice?
A. Unfortunately, no one has solved that problem. But we offer some simple tools that help people give better decision advice. (Often it’s easier to spot the flaws in other people’s thinking than in our own.) As an example, the phrase “whether or not” is often a warning flag that someone is trapped in a narrow frame. So if your son is debating “whether or not to go to the party tonight,” that’s your cue to widen the options he’s considering. (Horror movie? School basketball game? A head-start on trigonometry coursework?) For important decisions, even a little improvement can pay big dividends.
“A leader's most important job is to make good decisions, which—minus perfect knowledge of the future—is tough to do consistently…The Heath brothers explain how to navigate the land mines laid by our irrational brains and improve our chances of good outcomes.” -Inc.
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The book will help you to learn to process information better. It is broken down into various sections, that highlight some of the mistakes in choice making. There is a ton of wisdom in the pages. Here is some: "Our normal habit in life is to develop a quick belief about a situation and then seek out information that bolsters our belief. And that problematic habit, called the “confirmation bias,” is the second villain of decision making." "If you haven’t encountered any opposition to a decision you’re considering, chances are you haven’t looked hard enough. Could you create a safe forum where critics can air their concerns?"
The first part of the book talks about hindrances to good decisions, and the second part of the book talks about how to overcome making bad choices. The book is practical in this way. Everything is broken down into steps, and advice. It is easy to follow.
This book would help ministers and elders in the church. I know people say elders should not be a board making choices, but at the end of the day, the eldership is responsible for making big choices in a church. This book would be a good study for the leadership to insure that the choices are wise, and not just poorly done. This is a good one, and I highly recommend this text.
They cite four "villains" of decision making: framing choices too narrowly; allowing bias to shape decisions; permitting emotions to overtake the process; being overconfident in our predictions. The Heaths tackle each of these archenemies of quality decisions in turn, offering up an effective counter measure under the rubric WRAP--Widen your options; analyze and Reality test assumptions; Attain distance before choosing; Prepare to be wrong. Business mnemonics can be silly, but this one has real substance behind it.
Along the way the Heaths offer up incisive and useful techniques for executing these disciplines, illustrated with numerous real-world cases. Among the many common-sense approaches the best include "find someone who has solved your problem." It seems obvious, but we often think our situations are unique and no one else has ever faced similar challenges before.
Other crucial concepts are to avoid narrow choices, and to get perspective to reduce the impact of emotions on decision making. It helps enormously to put distance, both in time and space, between you and your choice to help resist an impulsive mistake. They don't use the term "group think," but it's what they had in mind in recommending that groups and their managers dare to ask themselves tough questions and to appoint a true "devil's advocate" for the task. Another method is for the group to conduct a "pre-mortem," a review of all the things that could happen as the result of a decision, some of which can expose unexpected risks or unintended outcomes. And finally, it's useful to have contingencies--what do we do if things go wrong? It's shocking how often no one asks that question.
What makes the book so powerful is how intuitive its best practices are, how readily they can be adapted and adopted to both business and personal situations, and how quickly one can find success in deploying them.