on March 26, 2013
I highly recommend Decisive as a valuable aid to making more objective decisions. The Heath Brothers do a great job laying out a better and more memorable process for making decisions while illustrating the principles with a wide variety of examples. They begin by discussing how the normal decision making process proceeds in 4 steps, each of which has a "villain" that can negatively impact it. To quote from their introduction:
* You encounter a choice. But narrow framing makes you miss options.
* You analyze your options. But the confirmation bias leads you to gather self-serving information.
* You make a choice. But short-term emotion will often tempt you to make the wrong one.
* Then you live with it. But you'll often be overconfident about how the future will unfold
They spend the remainder of the book detailing a process to make better decisions - the WRAP process:
* Widen your options
* Reality Test Your Assumptions
* Attain Some Distance
* Prepare to Be Wrong
Each part of the process has several powerful ideas that are worth chewing on and implementing in the context of one's life. I have chosen a few of the ideas to give you a flavor of what is in store:
For widening your options, it is important to avoid a narrow frame. In order to make sure you challenge yourself to do this, they propose an idea called the Vanishing Options Test - what would you do if the current alternatives disappeared? Here is a key quote: "When people imagine that they cannot have an option, they are forced to move their mental spotlight elsewhere - really move it - often for the first time in a long while."
For Reality testing your assumptions. They have a chapter on "consider the opposite" - and there is an approach from Roger Martin that recommends for each option you are looking at, ask yourself "What would have to be true for this option to be the right answer?" This is an especially powerful concept in a business context where sides may be talking past each other - this helps reset the context to analyzing the options rather than arguing past each other.
In attaining some distance, they cover a simple but powerful question that is really helpful for a personal decision (though it applies in business contexts as well). The question is: "What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?"
For preparing to be wrong, they cover the idea of a tripwire - something to make us come back and revisit the decision. This helps in making sure that past decisions get revisited periodically. This is especially important in reminding us that we have a choice in our actions and we are free to revisit those decisions we made in the past to make sure they are still meeting our needs. I find this important for reminding myself to remain actively engaged rather than passively falling into the status quo.
There are many other powerful techniques and ideas spread throughout the book. Some of my favorites are: prevention versus promotion focus, zoom out/zoom in, ooching, and pre-mortems. I highly recommend purchasing the book and integrating its concepts into your life in order to make better decisions.
Here are a few related thoughts and items that others may find interesting:
For reality testing your assumptions, see Richard Feynman's "Cargo Cult Science" article (freely available on the internet)
I have found the book Making Great Decisions in Business and Life by David Henderson and Charles L Hooper to be helpful as well. An interesting course on decision making is also made available by the Teaching Company (the course is taught by Michael Roberto who is mentioned in the book in the section on Recommendations for Further Reading)
For a powerful article on choices and values, see David Kelley's article "I Don't Have To" (also available freely on the internet)
The March 2013 Harvard Business Review has an article by Heidi Grant Halvorson and E. Tory Higgins related to prevention and promotion mindsets
Please note that this review is based on an advance copy (Uncorrected Proof) of the book that the authors made available via their website (a "secret" buried in a David Lee Roth story about tripwires). I enjoyed the book so much that I pre-ordered the hardcover right after finishing the advanced copy
Chip and Dan Heath are known for writing insightful and approachable books like Switch. Their new book, Decisive does not follow this pattern. That simple statement required me to make a decision about this review. Writing a less than stellar review is often a challenge eliciting negative feedback when sharing reasons why something did not live up to your expectations or was worth the time to read.
We all make decisions and the top of making better decisions should have been a slam-dunk. While Decisive does deliver, particularly in the first few chapters, overall the messages in this book get lost. The book is too long, heavy and complex to be helpful, particularly covering a subject already treated by others.
The core messages of the book are sound and helpful. The book covers recognizes the challenges we face in making decisions:
> Forcing an either/or decision when its not needed
> Confirmation bias, when we seek and see only the data that supports our views
> Removing emotion from the decision making process
> Overconfidence in decision making that limits our ability to consider alternative
The answers to these challenges are a pop acronym WRAP that describes their four-step process to making better decisions.
> Widen your options
> Reality test your assumptions
> Attain distance before deciding
> Prepare to be wrong
These are commonsense and helpful ideas. They are the basis for an easy to understand, actionable set of tools, you are right. This is a case where the structure and prose gets in the way as the book uses 11 chapters to cover each letter of WRAP. Each chapter goes through a review of other people's books, psychology studies and stories around a particular sub-aspect of each letter. Much of the content of these chapters will be familiar to readers of other books about decision-making.
In my opinion this book should have been 200 pages not 300. Focus would give the read more value by delivering less prose. The decision to deliver less would have meant so much more.
The best part of this book is the first few chapters, those related to widening your options. These chapters reflect the spirit of Chip and Dan Heath's earlier books. The logic is clearer, the actions more practical, and the explanations more accessible. After those first few chapters, the prose grows in heavier, the stories while interesting become a little confusing in large part because of their number and the book becomes less readable or interesting. It seems like the authors fell into the Gladwell trap and tried to write a Malcolm Gladwell book, which was probably a poor decision.
> Focusing on decision-making is an important and timely topic and one that we all need to keep in mind.
> The book concentrates on personal decision-making, the ones we make as individuals and consumers more than the ones we make as business leaders and citizens. Since we make personal decisions all the time it makes it easy to test and apply the ideas right away.
> The book is rather generic to the sense that many of the ideas are obvious and much of this ground has already been covered by the likes of Dan Ariely, Johan Lehrer and Daniel Pink. Chip and Dan Heath are latecomers to the subject area and do more to repeat and repackage rather than introduce new ideas.
> The story examples, while helpful, bog the book down; require you to wade through what the authors want you to read rather than enabling you to jump ahead to the information you want.
> The structure of the chapters and numbered subsections with chapters are not particularly helpful and chop up the book. If the authors were trying to make the book more like reading a blog, then the missed as the subsections are too long and indirect.
Overall, recommended if you have the time and have not read any other books on decision making. In that case, this content will be new and helpful. If you have already read other decision related books, then I might put this one lower on the priority list.
on March 27, 2013
Here are 3 aspects I've appreciated about Decisive
Readability: No one writes non-fiction business books like these guys. In parts, Decisive is hard to put down. If you've read Made to Stick, you'll see the authors practicing what they preach by applying their SUCCES principles to the format of this book (if you haven't read it, then get it).
Gives You Language: Three of us in our department at work got a copy of Decisive and it comes up in conversation everyday. The Heath brothers have given us language like: "ooching", "setting tripwires", "widen our options,"narrow framing, and "What would have to be true for this to be the best option?" This is kind of language has the power to shape the culture of an organization.
Researched: I love the footnotes! Decisive is full of credible examples, and you can tell that the authors and their research team put in hundreds of hours exploring the topic of decision making. The result is a litany of real-life examples and the results of research studies put into layman's terms.
on March 26, 2013
The Heath brothers' previous books Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die and Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard are mainstays on my book shelf, and now "Decisive" joins them as a worthy companion. It is pretty shocking to think how little education most of us get on the art of how to make decisions. This book arrived at a very opportune time for me, as it immediately helped think about two major life decisions in new ways. First, my family was thinking of buying a new house, one of a family's biggest purchases. When my husband and I were touring the home, the real estate agent said, "make a list of pros and cons as you think it over." As she said that, I thought how inadequate that seemed as a decision-making strategy. Later that day, I cracked open "Decisive" and the Heaths immediately offered novel alternatives to the "pros and cons list." These solid, research-tested ideas laid out in their "WRAP process" helped me realize that the costs of moving, both financial and opportunity costs of time, were too great, and we should learn to love our current home. Second, I am thinking about applying for a new job in a new field, and the advice to "ooch," to take a small step and experiment and try out the job (by shadowing someone who is already in the role), was right on target. Take a series of small steps before you leap into a major life change.
As "Decisive" can help us make decisions more wisely and thoughtfully, it proves its worth over and over again. For me, this book was literally worth its weight in gold as it helped me save the expense of a major move! Time will tell what happens with the new job, but I will definitely face it better prepared, thanks to "Decisive." This is another hit by Chip and Dan Heath, and serves as a great resource for individuals, organizations, and would be an engaging college textbook, too.
on April 5, 2013
When I received news of a soon to be released third book by the brothers Heath I immediately jumped on the opportunity and as with the earlier two I am glad I did.Now, a word of caution to the reader, this book is a lot more dense than the other two and therefore takes more energy to read. However, I applaud the Heath's for continually tackling tough and complex topics and doing their best to make them accessible. As a business owner I know the book took me on a roller coaster ride through my personal history of decisions made, those with both good and bad outcomes.
As a collector of resources that become permanent parts of a practical tool kit I think Decisive is a worthy addition. Let the buyer beware though, Decisive is a look at a much more complex process than either Made to Stick or Switch, at least in my view.
I'd recommend that interested buyers read the reviews here, especially the one and three star entries. I suppose we all knew that there would be readers who couldn't wait to provide a five star review; that would have been me until I got about a third of the way in and wasn't having as much fun as I did with the first two books. Then I realized that what the Heath's were guiding me towards was a rigorous process of subjecting my decisions to objective reviews. Yuck! Who wants to do that? If it sounds like I am saying that Decisive may be a bitter pill for some to swallow you'd be correct. It really does reveal that lack of rigor and critical thinking that many of us employ in our own personal quest to simply do what we want to do.
Decisive is not as entertaining as Made to Stick or Switch but it takes us into an area of life where the consequences are much weightier and maybe just harder to look at. I'd recommend it to students as a general reference source or especially to anyone considering making a decision that has considerable consequences to account for.
on April 3, 2013
Yes, Dan and Chip would want to read this.
Because it provides the counter-view...
Their first book was truly a wonderful book. The second got more complex. This one goes round in circles forever. I would recommend you read this book and judge for yourself, but I found it terrible. I thought it was just me, but speaking with others in my group, the decision was unanimous.
Are there nuggets in the book? I'm sure there are. But I had to abandon the book despite buying the audio version as well, at a much higher price. I even bought it sight unseen (without any reviews and in advance).
I hope Dan and Chip take this well. I recommend "Made to Stick" as required reading for all our clients. But this one, I'd recommend they pass.
I'm more than disappointed. And I do hope that Dan and Chip listen to this lone dissenting voice and find out how they can make their books a lot better.
I wrote the post above and didn't elaborate. Here's the long version.
So why was the book so hard to read?
1) It doesn't understand isolation.
2) It doesn't use stories and examples as a binding device.
3) It keeps hemming and hawing (using references to Gary Klein etc).
1) Why Isolation Matters
If you read a very management-driven book like "Good to Great" by Jim Collins, it may kinda put you to sleep, but surprisingly it doesn't. And this is because of the way Jim managed to isolate the chapters. So if you read about "the Hedgehog Principle", it's different from "Level 5 Leaders" which is different from the other concepts. Even though Jim jumps several topics (which could be books in themselves) he stays and drives home the point long enough for you to understand the importance of the point.
This is the concept of isolation.
This is what a writer has to learn to do. That in any book, report, article etc. the chances are that you're not going to run out of information. Rather, the opposite occurs. You know too much. And you get lost in the information, and it's your job to find your way out of the 'information spaghetti'. But the Heath Brothers never do.
After going through chapters in their new book, Decisive, it's a struggle to isolate facts that will help me make a better decision. And that's not on. A book is probably the best place to create isolation, because it has the natural boundary of chapters. So your chapter should signal what you want to talk about and then it should connect to the next chapter.
A book should move from chapter to chapter without too much of a problem. That's because a topic in any chapter goes through a systematic, what, how, why, examples, stories, objections etc. and then finally connects to the next chapter. Without that comprehensive skeleton or outline, you're just jamming in the facts. And facts, impressive as they are, tire the mind.
Articles can have the same problem
You might think an article is easier to write, but it's not. Again, like a book, your article can bloat in a matter of minutes, unless you keep to a very clear outline. And the way to contain your article is to have a solid outline. You as a writer need to know this. But you also need to know that facts can be boring after a while. Which is why stories and examples have to keep being brought back time after time.
Which takes us to the Heath Brothers' second mistake.
2) The stories need to bind the concept together
The stories and examples are what help you remember the lesson. If you were to listen to an audio book or read a book for the second time, you'll find something very interesting. You'll find that you almost want to skip over the stories. Why? Because once the story rolls a bit, you know what's coming next. It's a bit like the story your grandma told you everytime you visited. In a few minutes, you knew what was coming.
So stories are boring the second time around, so why have them?
Because they're amazing the first time you learn something. The story helps you encapsulate the information and make sense of it. When you remember the story, you tend to remember the rest of the information.
Stories also help relax your brain
The brain loves a great story, and facts tire the brain. The moment you start telling a story, the brain calms down and is able to pick all the detail. So it's a great way to just relax the reader.
The story binds the concepts together--and guess what? The book by the Heath Brothers have stories but they don't help to bind the facts. Instead they keep coming like a series of waves, relentless. I can remember some stories, like the Van Halen "M&M" story, but not many others. This dooms a book, because now you're now asking the reader to slog through stories and case-studies. The very thing that should be a friend to the reader, now becomes an onslaught.
Which would be fine if the facts went somewhere. And that's the third problem.
3) They keep hemming and hawing
I listened to the book on audio, and almost about an hour into the audio, the book still seemed to suggest that we're getting somewhere. It kept saying, "This book is about..."
Oh come on!
I need to know what this book is about in the first 5-10 minutes. Not way down the line, with constant reminders what the book is supposedly about. And then they keep suggesting that their system is not THE system, which is fair enough, but be the experts. I'm counting on you to be the experts. Show some spine!
But they never do.
Well, not until the point I've reached at least. They keep going back to some study on decision making, quoting this person and that, but never really telling me what to do.
As I was listening to the book, my mind kept wandering away
And I thought it was me. I thought I was over-occupied. I thought the reader (of the book) was not so good. Until I spoke to my wife too. She struggled he book too. I spoke to several of my clients. So it wasn't me. It was a very difficult book and I had to learn to trust my judgment better.
And so the book suffers on many fronts, but in the sprit of isolation, let's summarize:
1) Not enough isolation.
2) Not enough story telling and analogies
3) Hemming and hawing, never leading me with confidence.
I have to say I'm writing this review with a heavy heart.
Read it and judge for yourself.
on May 18, 2013
Do you want to make better, more confident decisions in life and work? "Decisive" will help you. Many decisions regarding career choices, corporate mergers and acquisitions, and personal life are poor. A lot of research has explored problems with decision-making; "Decisive" presents a process for making better decisions.
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.
on March 29, 2013
You know what you are going to get from the Heath Bro's. They take a business school subject, shape the fundamental texts - in this case Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow - into a framework, and then flesh out with case studies. This book isn't as good as the first two.
Their subject this time is decision making. As you read, you can almost feel them scratching to live up to their reputation. The framework isn't as good as Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard. The Driver-Elephant-Path from Switch is a helpful analogy. WRAP, their framework for Decisive, is just an acronym. Decisive isn't as easy to implement as Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. You can easily go back and edit your writing. Changing how you make decisions is more difficult.
The Heath Bro's make their best point at the end. Making better decisions requires a process. You can't beat your biases; you need a process that neutralizes them. The Heath Bro's process for making decisions is WRAP. Widen your options, Reality test, Achieve emotional distance, and Prepare for failure.
Widen your options - If you are familiar with design thinking, you are familiar with this processes. Generating more options leads to better decisions. The worst type of decisions are "to do or not to do" decisions.
Reality Test - Don't believe in your own exceptionalism, instead rely on base case rates. Look for ways to disprove your assumptions rather than trying to prove your assumptions.
Achieve Emotional Distance - All emotions are bad of decisions; only the intense short-term emotions are. Try changing time horizons to uncover your true deeper emotions.
Prepare to Fail - Before you make a decision you can limit your exposure if the decision turns out to be wrong. Once you have made a decision, decide on the criteria for re-examining the decision.
on April 4, 2013
Chip and Dan Heath present a great method for helping people make better decisions.
In "Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work", the Heath brothers explain that most decision-making methods-including the pros and cons method used by Benjamin Franklin-are flawed because they fail to take into account the four villains of decision-making.
The Four Villains of Decision-Making
According to the Heath brothers, the four villains of decision-making are the following:
1. Narrow framing: The tendency to define our choices too narrowly, or to set them in binary terms. Here are three examples:
Narrow framing: Should I break up with my partner?
Better framing: How can I make this relationship better?
Narrow framing: Should I buy a car?
Better framing: How can I best use my money so that my family will be better off?
Narrow framing: Should I accept this job offer?
Better framing: What's the best way for me to generate income?
2. The confirmation bias: In most situations we allow our guts to come to a decision, and then we look for information that will support that decision. That is, we have a tendency to spotlight the information that supports the conclusion we've come to and to disregard any information that opposes it.
3. Short-term emotions: Our short-term emotions often lead us to make the wrong choices.
For example, suppose that you're offered a job that pays a lot more money than what you're currently making. Your short-term emotion will probably be happiness at the prospect of making more money. However, this short-term happiness could lead you to accept the job offer without taking into account things like following:
That the job is in a city far away from your friends and family;
That the work you'll be doing doesn't have much meaning for you; and
That the person you'll be working for has a difficult temperament.
That is, the short-term flush of happiness could lead you to make the wrong decision.
4. Overconfidence: People have a tendency to think that they know more than they do about the future and how it will unfold. They feel certain that X or Y will take place, and they make decisions based on their predictions. However, a lot of the time it turns out that their predictions about the future are wrong.
The Four Steps of the WRAP Method
In "Decisive", Chip and Dan Heath offer a four step process for decision-making which takes the four villains described above into account. They use the acronym "WRAP" to help people remember the steps of the process which they recommend. WRAP stands for the following:
1. Widen your choices. Avoid the narrow definition of your choices. Instead, push for new and better options. Ask yourself how you can expand your set of choices.
2. Reality-test your assumptions. Ask yourself how you can get outside your head and gather information you can trust. Pretend that you're a trial lawyer and that you have to argue for the decision that you're thinking of making, and then take the other side and argue against it.
3. Attain distance before deciding. Broaden your perspective by getting some distance from your short-term emotions. One way to do this is to ask yourself how you would advice a friend trying to make a decision similar to the one that you have to make. Another way is to ask yourself what someone you admire would decide under similar circumstances.
4. Prepare to be wrong. Suppose that you're wrong, and things don't turn out the way in which you think they will. Are you prepared for that scenario? What steps can you take in order to be prepared in case you're wrong? What sort of "insurance" can you set up in order to protect yourself in case the future doesn't unfold like you think it will?
The Heath brothers argue--very convincingly--that if you follow the WRAP process you'll be able to keep the four villains of decision-making at bay, and you'll start making better decisions.
This is a great book. Hardly any topic could be more important in today's complex world and decision making is something humans aren't really very good at.
In this book the Heath brothers provide excellent content in an incredibly well organized manner. Each chapter contains clear explanations of the principles and case studies and examples to illustrate the point. At the end of each chapter is a one page summary of the contents that make excellent reference points.
I read a lot of books and trust me this book is really good. It's very practical and sorely needed. Very highly recommended.