How to make better decisions, tip #1/3

Explore how to make better decisions using the tools and principles shared in Dan and Chip Heath’s book Decisive.  This is the first of three installments, where I share tip #1: role playing, in three acts. Enjoy!

Number one tool to make decisions? Prepare the role.  But not the kind you might think.

Syba, or, Nana DogishvaSyba, or, Nana Dogishva

But first, a little disclosure preamble about my horrible decision-making tactics

Bossy, yes. I’ll be bossy in a second. But when it comes to strategic decisions? I’m a wishy-washy mess.

I knew there was an unrepairable defect in my construction. This defect, though quite noticeable to me, may go undetected for some time by others by masquerading as diplomacy. Listening and considering all sides is a good quality, but is also a clever tactic to let someone else decide when you are not brave enough to throw down the gauntlet.

So I was happy to find Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip and Dan Heath. Happy? OK, ecstatic.

Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work
Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work

Dan and Chip Heath, authors of bestsellers Switch: How to Change When Change is Hard and the book about making your ideas and messages lasting, Made to Stick, once again whittle away at their topic mercilessly, in this case the nature of decision-making.

As with their previous two works, they include entertaining stories, anecdotes, and even research to help you become a better decision maker. Examples and tools range, predictably, from personal and business relationships, to careers, to raising new humans.

There’s nothing like a good story to enhance one’s ability to remember a lesson or cautionary tale. From Aesop’s fables to Justin Bieber’s latest exploits, we’ve always used the power of narrative to guide us through our reactions.

Aesop's Fables
Aesop: He knew a good story. Dog and the bone anyone?

The Heath brothers serve as our trusted narrators and advisors throughout the book. We’re gently tested and prompted to use previously revealed tools throughout the text. So much material is packed into each chapter that I found myself straining to recall the contents upon end. But never fear,  key points are summarized at the end of each chapter in a eyeball-scan-friendly one-pager that covers all the takeaways you need to remember.

Great, but how can I make better decisions?

First off, you can ditch your pros and cons list. The pros of these lists are that they feel good to jot down. The cons are just that: it doesn’t work, it’s a con. You’re being tricked to think you accomplished something using measured reason. (You may even be implementing your own version of my wishy-washyness).

Instead of the traditional unequally weighted list of pros and cons, the Heath Brothers suggest the following “Wrap” framework:

  • Widen your options
  • Reality-test your assumptions
  • Attain distance before deciding
  • Prepare to be wrong

There really are too many tools to cover (so you must pick up a copy of Decisive!), but I’m going to share what I thought was most helpful, which I’m broadly categorizing as preparation, implementation, and pulling the plug. We’ll cover the first, preparation, in this blog, then share the other two in subsequent posts.

Preparation: Three types of role playing + imaginary friends

Who knew the tools in our decision-making shed could be as simple to use as conjuring up your best friend or removing your existing options? Though in some cases we must make quick gut decisions, most decisions could benefit from a little strategy. And by strategy I don’t mean a 25-page plan. I’m looking for easy. Read on to learn my favorite suggestions to combat poor decision making.

  1. ACT ONE:  Make your options vanish.

Poof! Who needs all those pesky options anyway? Most of us have a solution in mind when we try to solve a problem – and unfortunately, it may not be the best solution (chances are, we have tunnel vision).

Tunnel Vision
This tunnel on our 2014 trip to Yellowstone National Park was the right kind of tunnel vision

What if we blew that tunnel up (peacefully, of course) and completely eliminated the default options from consideration? It’s amazing what your mind can discover simply by your forcing it to shine the spotlight (to use the Heath brother analogy) elsewhere. Try it: I did. It works.

Say you hate your job. Your only option, you think, is to quit. Wrong-o. What about a new position? Being reassigned? Taking on different/new duties? Finding new ways to connect with a dreaded co-worker/boss/etc? By eliminating the “quit” option you are forced to get creative, quickly, and conversely have more and possibly better options to choose from. The Heath Brothers call this “vanishing options.”

2.  ACT TWO: Ask your imaginary best friend for advice.

Don’t have a best friend? Not to worry. You can always have a fake best friend who has your best interests in mind at all times.

Fake Best Friend
My fake best friend, Syba.  All she wants is a treat.

Consult your FBF. What would they tell you to do in this situation? How would they view your options? By this simple trick of adjusting the viewer to another (benevolent) viewpoint, you’ve opened up your options one-thousand fold. I’ve already used his on (real) people and myself. Conclusion? Works like magic.

3.  ACT THREE (the final act): Imagine your successor’s decision.

Though you might not want to be replaced quite yet, you can get tremendous value from simply imagining what a competent successor would do with your dilemma.

As illustrated in Decisive, this option was the difference between folding and thriving for Intel when they moved away from the memory business in the 80s.

The head honcho was at a stalemate between his own values, the employees’, and the outside business reality (competition from Japan) when he had his epiphany: If I don’t make a decision, my successor will. What would my successor do?

The imagined successor did the “right” thing by setting aside company politics and swiftly choosing the path based on evidence: specialize in microprocessors (and move away from memory).

Replace yourself, but not really
Replace yourself, but not really

Why wait for someone to replace you when you can imagine their savvy business decisions and implement them yourself?

Try each of the above to help you ditch the pros and cons list and engage your inner genius decision-making power.   And don’t be a wimp like me.

How about you: What are your favorite decision-making tricks? Do they work well? Share in the comments below.


Next up? Playing the role: taking action


PS: Decisive? Five stars!

five stars

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