How to make better decisions, tip #2/3

Explore how to make better decisions using the tools and principles shared in Dan and Chip Heath’s book Decisive.  This is the second of three installments, where I share tip #2: Playing the role (implementation). Read act one here.

Number two tool to make decisions? Play the role (no acting experience necessary).

Once you have made your decision predictions using nothing other than your fake friends and wild imagination, it’s time to test them out a little before investing too much. Here are a few of my favorite ways to change “either/or” into “and,” thus both “widening your options” and “reality testing.”

Playing the role: Ready, set, action

There are four main ways to transform your decision into action mode. First, you need others (Community!). Second, experiment with different versions.  Third, don’t just let your decision hang out there like a tamale: test it. Last, you need to channel Japan and go to the Gemba. Wha?  Read on.

Get more brains on your problem.

Crowd-sourcing is popular for a reason: it works. Similarly, whether you are sending out an RFP, trying to name your new business/product/idea, or design the next mouse, you are going to benefit tremendously by getting different perspectives.

Don't make decisions alone
Don’t make decisions alone (our trip to Pappajohn Sculpture Park)


Rather than do this around a boardroom table, Decisive wisely suggests you expand the boundaries of the project to discover all the possibilities. When Colgate sought a name for their travel toothbrush, almost 100 professionals tried it out and made word associations until one rang true and stuck. (The Wisp.)


how to make better decisions
The Colgate Wisp

The Heath Brothers also call this “Multitracking.”  Another example: Typically, you might send out an RFP to multiple vendors, but only hire one.  This could be limiting and you could be stuck in a bad relationship (as beautifully characterized by The Oatmeal here).

One  company profiled in Decisive instead reviewed many RFPs for an upcoming project, but rather than selecting the “best” vendor, they hired the top three for the first stage of their project/prototype.

Choose (from a menu of options) when the proposal (and vendor) is in action.  (Spoiler alert: this works.)

Imagine a design three ways.

Maybe you have hired a professional to design your logo, poster, or website. Often, there is only one option or two similar mock-ups to choose from. Since I’m not an expert in design, what follows are my crude attempts to explain what I want instead (again, see The Oatmeal above.)

There is one way the Heath Brothers suggest getting around this problematic communication barrier. This solution works two ways.  Let’s see how.

Designers who presented three mock-ups that were distinctly different (rather than slight variations on the same design) became less attached to each and more able to take input without defensiveness (due, it’s theorized, to having other options rather than just one).

how to make decisions: three ways
Or more than three ways. Here, Seattle’s Mighty-O shows us how.


But designer defensiveness isn’t the main utility of this method. The win is on the other side as well: people were better able to choose a design/option because of a wide variety of options to choose from and provision, then, of a “language” to articulate what they liked or did not like with each option.

Test your decision.

“Ooching” is what the Heath Brothers call testing out a hypothesis. (Don’t believe the Urban Dictionary. It’s not a cuddle or fart.)

Let’s take a standard business practice. In fact, this practice is used in almost 100% of organizations. It is terrible and ineffective, yet it’s carried out daily anyway.

Do I mean water boarding? Phone call tapping? Nope – nothing that compassionate. I’m talking the job interview. As Decisive points out, the interview is good for one thing: assessing how well the individual interviews. Why not hire them for three weeks and see how it goes? Good for both parties.

how to make better decisions, hire me
But maybe do a background check first

Sure, it may seem like more work up front. But getting stuck with an unproductive or uncooperative fellow employee is usually longer-term and worse.

How else might this apply?  As a manufacturer, testing can include taking a pre-order for a not-yet-manufactured product or service (as also suggested by Tim Ferris of the Four Hour Workweek) or giving someone an opportunity to try their idea for a limited time.

Go to the gemba.

In Japan, the “gemba” is known as the place where the “action happens” such as the manufacturing floor or crime scene.

(But we advise you avoid the crime scene.)

Would you hire a top-paid senior executive to handle customer service?

Sounds like a bad idea, but that’s exactly what happened at Xerox. Disaster ensued? Quite the opposite.

how to make better decisions


The decision to rotate senior staff to handle customer service calls for a day and management of one client account helped save the company.

By hearing complaints directly, executives got to know the customer and make better decisions with their needs in mind.

How about you – would you ever hire without interviews, or hire multiple vendors for one project?  What other ways have you found to implement your decisions? Share your thoughts in the comments below.


Next up? Reiterate.
(Post #1 here.)