I’m on a mission. I’m reading and re-reading books on decision making as long as they keep teaching me new things.
I just finished “Decisive” by the Heath Brothers. It presents a framework to tackle challenging decisions. It works both for teams and individuals.
I find the book useful because it describes a wealth of very effective tools. If the framework doesn’t help you, you’ll find at least a couple of tools to improve your decision process.
For these reasons, this issue is dedicated to the summary of “Decisive”. I’ll highlight all the things that can help a creator to make better choices.
The WRAP framework
Every decision happens in 4 phases. A specific cognitive bias stands in the way in every phase. A specific strategy helps against each cognitive bias (phase > bias > strategy):
- Encounter choice > Narrow framing > Widen your options
- Consider options > Confirmation bias > Reality-test your assumptions
- Decide > Short-term emotion > Attain some distance
- Live with it > Overconfidence > Prepare to be wrong.
As any framework, this may seem simplistic. Anyway, the biases and the corresponding countermeasures are backed by science (and confirmed in many other books).
Let’s see the tools to tackle each phase
Widen your options
We often see every choice as “whether or not decision”: should I run a business or work for an employer? Should I take clients or build products?
This complicates the decision. Any option implies a large sacrifice.
Reality is far more nuanced instead. Generating more options simplifies the decision because it provides more choices. Many of them have lower costs.
To widen your options:
- Consider opportunity cost by asking “what else am I giving up by making this choice?”
- Run the vanishing options test. Imagine none of the current options is available.
- Investigate multiple options at the same time. This avoids marrying only one and defending it at all costs. Comparison highlights pros and cons of every option.
- Counterbalance your instinct. If you are conservative, embrace a promotion mindset. If you are more aggressive, embrace a prevention mindset.
- Find someone who’s already solved similar situations. Ask her about the techniques that usually work. Avoid asking for a specific solution to your case, this will trigger her biases.
Reality-test your assumptions
You need to choose one among the options you generated. Confirmation bias puts the blinders on you. You look only for information supporting the option you like.
To choose wisely you need a more thorough view. You have to intentionally look for disconfirming evidence.
Use these techniques:
- Spark constructive disagreement from someone you trust. Ask “what has to be true to make this work?” for every available option.
- Ask disconfirming questions: What’s the biggest obstacle? If I failed, why?
- Ask how the option you are leaning towards could be a bad idea.
- Zoom out: compare your forecasts to base rates (e.g. industry averages or success percentages). Find them online or from experts.
- Zoom in: ask people who already made a similar decision about the real life consequences.
- Ooch: design an experiment were you can quickly test your assumptions, minimizing risk.
Attain some distance before deciding
The goal of a good decision making process isn’t to suffocate emotion. The problem is that too often short-term emotions lead to the wrong choice and compromise long-term satisfaction.
You need to go beyond short term emotions and serve your core priorities. Use the following techniques:
- 10/10/10: How would you feel in 10 minutes, 10 months or 10 years after choosing or not choosing a specific option? If the consequences in the long term are negligible, go for it.
- Fight loss aversion. You strongly resist every decision that changes the status quo. Ask yourself: if I didn’t own this thing, if I wasn’t in this situation, would I choose it?
- Shift perspectives. What would you suggest to a friend in the same situation? (I frequently use a slightly different version of this technique. I ask myself what I would suggest to a client in a similar situation).
- Identify and enshrine your core priorities. Define them before you need them. Then check daily whether what you’re doing respects them. Or use them to select viable options.
Prepare to be wrong
This phase wasn’t so obvious for me in the beginning. After all, when a decision has been made there’s nothing else to do, right?
Wrong. A good decision can still bring a bad outcome. Or you could have to face unexpected success.
Above all, you have to objectively assess the outcome and revise your decision making process, if necessary.
The techniques to help you live with success and failure are:
- Bookending: imagine the best and worst outcome for your decision. This will help you handle a range of results. The future is not a point, it’s an interval.
- Run a premortem. Suppose the necessary time has passed and you have the final outcome of your decision. It’s a complete failure: why?
- Run a preparade. Suppose your decision led to an incredible success. What’s it like? Do you have the resources to handle it?
- Exaggerate the safety factor. Create a buffer, for example adding a month to a deadline. Or overprepare against the risk of failure. For example bringing a presentation down to 10 minutes when the limit is 15.
- Anticipate problems. Imagine the possible negative consequences of a decision, for example what can go wrong in the relationship with a client. It’s demonstrated that this prevents (at least in part) the corresponding negative emotions and allows you to better handle the situation.
- Set a tripwire to know how to stop. Many outcomes take time. But you can end up suffering forever while you wait things to turn good. To avoid this, set some conditions that will tell you when to quit or change direction. The most common are: deadlines, measurement-based (e.g., how much you spent on a project), partitioning (reserving only a fixed amount of resources to a specific option).
What do you think?
I thought you could find useful this overview of all the significant tools in the book. You don’t need all of them. But depending on your situation and skills, some of them could prove enlightening.
Do you find this framework helpful? Would you like more details on some tools?