Sunday, May 05, 2013

Book Review: Decisive

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath and Dan Heath is the latest and greatest from the brothers Heath and my favorite so far.

Decisive lays out a framework for making choices that is smart, easy to follow and I think will really help me in the future. As with their other books, it's packed full of great examples that help you understand and remember the concepts. And a feature I really loved is that at the end of each chapter there's a summary of everything you read about in that chapter. I think this is a book you could put on your bookshelf and refer to from time-to-time to hone your decision-making skills.

Here's a quick run-down of the book.

    The book starts by laying out "The Four Villains of Decision Making" all with great examples:

    • you miss options by framing your options too narrowly; 
    • you gather self-serving information in order to support a confirmaton bias; 
    • you're tempted to make the wrong choice by short-term emotion;
    • and you're overconfident about how the future will turn out.

    and then introduces the four-part process that will help you to avoid those pitfalls with the acrostic "WRAP" -- and the following tactics:

    Widen Your Options
    There are options you haven't considered.

    Tactic: Avoid the Narrow Frame.  Avoid falling into "this or that" decision-making.  Explore additional options.  Ask what would happen if you had to discard your current options and come up with new ones.  Consider the opportunity costs.

    Tactic: Multitrack. Do a deeper dive on multiple options at once to really understand the question and answers better.  It'll be faster and eliminate the problem of having an ego attached to a particular option.  Alternate between promotion and prevention.  Embrace the and.

    Tactic: Find someone who's solved your problem.  Seek out competitive analysis, benchmarking and best practices.  But also look inside for past success.  Turn your greatest hits into a decision "playlist." Ladder up for options outside the field of study via analogies or strategic tangents.

    Reality-Test Your Assumptions
    If you're not careful, you'll only seek out information that supports the choice you don't realize you've already made.

    Tactic: Consider the opposite.  Look for evidence that doesn't support your options.  Intentionally spark constructive disagreement.  Ask disconfirming questions.  Test assumptions by introducing a deliberate mistake.

    Tactic: Zoom in, zoom out.  Trust the averages more and our instincts less.  Find base rates.  Ask an expert.  Get really, really close to the situation, live in it.

    Tactic: Ooch - run small experiments to test our theories.  (This one has more caveats.)

    Attain Distance Before Deciding
    Overcome short-term emotion and faulty logic.

    Tactic: Overcome Short-Term Emotion.  Gain distance.  Perform 10/10/10 test.  What would my successor do?  What would I tell a friend to do?

    Tactic: Honor Your Core Priorities.  Agony means option(s) are out of alignment with values.  Clearly identifying and articulating core values helps to immediately validate or invalidate different options.  Go on the offensive against that which is not a core priority.

    Prepare to Be Wrong
    The intentional effort to consider being wrong will help you to determine the best way to ultimately not be wrong.

    Tactic: Bookend the Future.  The future isn't a point, it's a range.  Consider a range of outcomes from very good to very bad.  Conduct a premortem.  Conduct a preparade.  Build in a "safety factor."  Anticipate problems and assess them for severity and probability.

    Tactic: Set a Tripwire - will allow you to go only so far down an uncertain path, will help prevent a subtle/gradual shift that's hard to see as it happens, avoids egos, prevents throwing good money after bad, creates a safe place for risk-taking by setting limits (which quiets fear and doubt and allows you to focus on what it will take to succeed).

    Tactic: Trust the Process - work to a fair decision, bargain for acceptance, make sure there's procedural justice, make sure the justice is obvious, apply it consistency.


    A really great book.  There's also follow-up materials on their website, a single page guide you can print and tack on the wall, and there's scenarios online and in the back of the book.  As well as their usual massive end-notes section, also worth-a-skim for even more context.  There's also a section called "Overcoming Obstacles" - you've read the book and now you're stuck with the expected "Yeah, but..." where you're in a situation now where this stuff all seems nice and good but requires the other parties to be reasonable and logical -- and they're not.  This section helps you to figure out which tactics will be the most successful in those particular situations to bring about a better environment for decision making (no, it's not a handy guide to getting your own way).
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