Why do we reach the decisions we do?
Why do we give so much weight to the information right in front of us but fail to consider the information just to our side?
These are the questions that Chip and Dan Heath, authors of best selling books Made to Stick, Switch and now Decsive ask, so how can we do better?
The Heath brothers believe that we need a process for making better decisions in both our personal and business lives.
Traditionally if you have to make a decision, chances are that you’ll draw up a list of the pros and cons about the matter you’re looking to make a decision on.
But the Heath brothers believe there are 4 flaws with this approach:
Flaw #1 – Narrow Framing
We define our choices too narrowly. We set them out in binary terms. Yes/No, Win/ Lose, For/Against. But why does every decision have to come down to competing options? What if we could have both?
When we generate pros and cons in our heads, it’s easy for us to be biased. We think we are making a rational judgement, but in reality we aren’t.
Flaw #2 – Confirmation Bias
Secondly when we make decisions about a situation, we seek out the information that supports our beliefs. So when we collect information to decide between options, we are more likely to select the information that supports our beliefs. When we want something to be true, we choose the things subconsciously that support it. Which ultimately leads to more pros than cons.
Flaw #3 – Short Term Emotion
You know what it’s like when you have a difficult decision to make, you lie awake at night thinking about all the options. Replaying the same arguments over and over again in our head. At times like this what we need most is perspective. What we need to do of course is to look at the big picture.
Flaw #4 – Over confidence
Most people have too much confidence in their own predictions. When we make guesses about the future, we look at the information that is close at hand and we draw our conclusions based on that information.
But what we really need is a sound benchmark to bring in a bit of realism.
So the Heath brothers suggest that we adopt a better decision making process:
How To Make A Better Decisions
1. Widen Options
When we come to making a decision, our narrow framing makes us miss options. So, to overcome the narrow framing we need to widen options.
The Heath brothers suggest that we learn to overcome “whether or not decisions” by adapting our situation and temporarily assuming we can’t choose any of the current options available by asking ourselves the following questions:
Is there a better way?
What else could we do?
These questions allow us to widen our options and give rise to new and innovative alternatives, but we must be careful not to come up with sham options which effectively serve the purpose of making the first option to be the preferred option.
2. Test Our Assumptions
When we analyse our options our confirmation bias limits us to find information that serves our beliefs. So, to overcome this we need to realty test our assumptions.
To do this, consider the opposite point of view – actively seek input from people who are devil’s advocates, those with an opposing point of view. Ask them to challenge your decisions. Always ask ourselves what would have to be true for this option to be the right answer.
This approach allows us to change our perspective and thus test our assumptions.
An alternative approach is to “zoom out” and “zoom in” – when we zoom out we take the experiences and views of others who have faced similar decisions to the ones we are facing. When we zoom in, we take a closer look at the situation, looking for specific facts which could inform our decision.
The third option is “To Ooch” – to stick your toe in the water. By constructing small experiments to test our hypothesis. Ooching is not about slowing down a decision. To ooch is to ask why. Why predict something when we can know?
3. Attain Distance Before Deciding
When we make decisions our hort term emotions leads us to draw the wrong conclusion. So the Heath Brothers tell us to attain distance before making a decision – in other words look at the big picture before deciding.
Sometimes when we face a tough decision it’s easy to loose perspective. To gain more perspective consider the 10 , 10 , 10 approach.
How will we feel about this decision 10 minutes from now?
How will we feel about this decision 10 months from now?
How will we feel about this decision 10 years from now?
This works because it depersonalisation the situation – just like giving advice to friend, you can see the wood from the trees which means that you can distance yourself from the decision.
4. Prepare to Be Wrong
When we make decisions about the future we’ll often be over confident about how things will work out, so to overcome this, you need to be prepared to be wrong.
Realistically consider what the future may hold – both good and bad.
One way to get around this is to conduct a premortem – the project team come up with all the reasons why the project may fail so that the problems maybe overcome.
The flip side of this is to hold a pre prarade – imagine the project to have been a compete success and that there’s going to be a parade in our honour. To hold a pre-parade the project team comes up with all the reasons why the project has been a success
Awareness setting in anticipation of events – the suggestion is to set a tripwire and jump us out of our conscious routines and remind us that decisions need to be made. The brothers share a lesson from Dave Lee Roth, Lead singer of the rock band, Van Halen.
Dave Lee Roth has a clause in his contracts requesting that M&M’s be placed in his dressing room minus the brown ones. Not that he has a particular dislike for the little brown button shaped candies. The reason he does is because it allows him to check that the contract has been read properly.
If he finds brown M&M’s in his dressing room then he knows to check especially carefully how things have been set up, especially when it comes to anything affecting the safety of his bandmates and crew.
Tripwires don’t guarantee the right decision. But they at least ensure that you are aware that you need to make a decision, and that we don’t miss our chance to choose because we’ve been inadvertently lulled into autopilot.