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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.
Top customer reviews
The authors of Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath, maintain that a good process is essential to making good decisions, whether in work or personal life. They identify four major obstacles to making good decisions: narrow framing, confirmation bias, short-term emotion, and overconfidence. Benjamin Franklin’s “moral algebra”, in which pros and cons are balanced against each other, is not a very good decision-making process because it addresses only one of the four obstacles. The Heath brothers propose the WRAP process to specifically address them: Widen your options (to counteract narrow framing), Reality-test your assumptions (to counteract confirmation bias), Attain distance before deciding (to counteract short-term emotion), and Prepare to be wrong (to counteract overconfidence).
Chip and Dan Heath summarize a wide range of literature on factors in decision making from psychology, economics, and management and illustrate their points with examples from many areas, including retailing, corporate mergers, advertising and marketing, high-tech business, scientific research, college and career choices, and personal relationships.
Like Chip and Dan Heath’s earlier books, such as Made to Stick, Decisive is engaging to read and practical. A feature of the WRAP process is that you can immediately start making better decisions by using only one or two of the elements of the method, such the “Vanishing Options Test”, “ooching” (performing a small experiment to test your hypotheses), the “10/10/10” perspective, or setting tripwires. The more of the method you use, the better your decisions will be, but you can “ooch” your way to better decisions almost immediately.
Since reading "Decisive" I have been using elements of the WRAP process in making personal and business decisions and already see an improvement in the quality of those decisions. I purchased copies of "Decisive" for relatives who are are facing college and career decisions and I think the WRAP process will help them make better decisions in those areas. And I have been recommending "Decisive" to my colleagues and staff too, to help them improve their decisions.
Here is what I find most useful:
1) I have now created mental trip-wires to alert me when I am going down the path of a wrong decision. For an example, there are never good either-or decisions - if you only have two options, always find a meaningful third. This book helps provide ways to find good third options.
2) In relationship with friends and clients, this has given me a great way to approach problems when someone is struggling with a decision. For example, I know someone who was struggling between different colleges. I suggested that when they took tours, they not only asked students at the college what they liked about the college, but to ask, "So this is truly a good school - but no school is the perfect fit for everyone. Can you give me three reasons why this school may not be a good fit for someone?" This really helped her in making her decision.
I don't want to repeat what others have already said, but their "WRAP" method is brilliant. It is a quick read (the audio book is good too) and will really impact how you make future decisions.
Over the course of the book Chip and Dan Heath discuss what impedes good decision making by describing the four obstacles to good decision making and then presenting the WRAP process to address them. The four obstacles are:
First - Narrow Framing (unduly limiting the options we consider). Their approach is to consider ""Can I do this and that?" instead of "Can I do this or that?"
Second - The Confirmation Bias (seeking out information that bolsters our beliefs). Here they stress that a broader search for information both supporting and non-supporting in order to have a truer discussion of the ramifications of a decision.
Third - Short Term Emotion (being swayed by emotions that will not fade). Andy Grove is used as the example - "What would our successors do if we were not here?" in order to take emotions out of the decision.
Fourth - Overconfidence (having too much faith in our predictions). "Who wants to hear actors talk?" "Four-piece groups with guitars, particularly, are finished."
The WRAP process stands for:
* Widen Your Options: avoiding a narrow frame, multitracking and finding someone who has already solved your problem.
* Reality-Test Your Assumptions: consider the opposite, zoom in and out, and ooch.
* Attain Distance Before Deciding: overcome short-term emotion and honor your core priorities.
* Prepare to be Wrong: bookend the future and set a tripwire.
The book contains a one page summary at the end of each chapter. In addition there is a next steps section, recommended reading list, sample clinics, and examples for overcoming obstacles. In addition, there is additional resource material available on the Heath Brothers website.
I recommend this book for anyone or organization that is looking to improve their decision making process.