Keep Making Terrible Decisions, Or Read the Book “Decisive”

It is a proven fact. The research proves it time and time again. We make poor decisions, even when we consciously work at making good decisions. This is true both at work and in personal lives.

Many books offer advice on this topic. The one I sought out this summer and highly recommend is Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath & Dan Heath. I could not put it down. Their writing style keeps you engaged. (Of course, I readily admit to seeking out their books, having enjoyed their two previous ones as well – Switch and Made to Stick.)

The book by Chip Heath and Dan Heath on my Kindle Fire
The book by Chip Heath and Dan Heath

In Decisive, the Heath Brothers identify the four common traps (or as they call them “the four villains of decision making”) we fall into which lead to poor choices:

  1. Narrow framing (unduly limiting the options we consider)
  2. The confirmation bias (seeking out information that bolsters our beliefs)
  3. Short-term emotion (being swayed by emotions that will fade)
  4. Overconfidence (having too much faith in our predictions)

And naturally, they offer a framework, called the WRAP process, to counterbalance each of the four traps (or villains):

  • Widen Your Options
  • Reality-Test Your Assumptions
  • Attain Distance Before Deciding
  • Prepare to Be Wrong

The examples the authors provide of both poor choices and improved choices illustrate their concepts beautifully. No one can argue, for example, that The Quaker Oats Company’s acquisition of Snapple in 1994 for $1.8 billion was a fiasco. The Heath brothers walk you through how it happened and where the decision-making traps applied.

Another example, which many parents will be able to relate to, involves the decision-making process for teenagers selecting a college. A woman named Heidi Price had a very difficult time working through that process with her daughter in 2003. Since then she has since started a company called College-Match, which helps facilitate the decision-making for high school students. College-Match specifically helps students widen their options.

These signs indicate you operate in an environment where a fresh perspective around decision making could help:

  • When you make a recommendation, no one pushes back on it or questions whether it is the “right answer”
  • People in your department are afraid to confront you (or your manager) because they fear the political fallout
  • You feel like or believe you “don’t have a choice” about an upcoming situation in your life (either personally or professionally)
  • It seems like your situation is so complicated or unique that no one else would understand it or “get it”

The list could go on, but you get the idea. You may not even realize you make assumptions until someone else points them out. Happy reading!

Betsy Winkler is Partner at People Results. She can be reached on Twitter @BetsyWinkler1 or on email at Sign up to receive her and her colleagues’ blog at Current.