Strategy. Innovation. Brand.

Deciding Decisively

I want more options.

I want more options.

Last week. I wrote about Chip Heath’s presentation skills. Today, let’s talk about his cognitive skills. Chip, with his brother Dan, has written three books: Switch, Made to Stick, and Decisive.

I’ve written about Decisive before and I expect to write about it again. Today, I’ll give an overview of the four major parts of the Decisive paradigm. I hope this will be useful in itself and it should also serve to introduce future articles that delve more deeply into each of the four elements.

Heath suggests that the path to better decision making is summarized in a simple acronym: WRAP. Here’s a thumbnail description of each.

Widen Your Options – too often, our decisions come in the form of “whether or not”. For instance: “We need to decide whether or not we’re going to acquire Company Z.” Much better to say, “What’s the best way to invest our capital to increase our market share?” Heath reports on one study that suggests that multiple-choice decisions are six times more likely to result in good decisions than are whether-or-not decisions. (This is very similar to Paul Nutt’s concept of premature commitment or to a doctor’s narrow framing based on your medical record.)

Reality-test Your Assumptions – I’ve written about confirmation bias before; Heath says that it’s much more pervasive in business than we might realize. The boss wants to do something, so all of us underlings look for evidence that she’s right. Moral: don’t surround yourself with yes-people. Before making a big decision, hold a trial with two well-prepared groups arguing the pros and cons. Also, remember the base rates. If nine out of ten start-ups fail, there’s a 90% chance that your start-up will fail. Really, there is – you can learn more here.

Attain Distance Before Deciding – My Mom used to say, “It’s easier to avoid temptation than to resist it.” In essence, that’s Heath’s advice, too. Making a big decision stirs up emotions ranging from fear to greed and most everything in between. So, get some distance. Time can be a form of distance; putting off a decision may help you think more clearly. (But not always). You can also ask yourself a simple question: “If my best friend asked for my advice in a similar situation, what would I say?”

Prepare to Be Wrong – when I climbed in the Andes, my buddies and I would often create a go/no go decision like this: “If we don’t reach such-and-such point by such-and-such time, we need to abandon the climb and return to camp.” Heath calls these tripwires. They’re agreed upon milestones or events that will jolt us out of autopilot. Without tripwires, we may just go merrily on our way, assuming that our original decision was correct. Tripwires help us focus on unfolding events and take corrective action.

Is that all there is to decision making? Not at all, Heath tells some great stories along the way and I’ll write about them in the future. For today, however, that about WRAPs it up.

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