How exciting is decision-making?? I’ve always enjoyed the logic that goes into navigating the personal and professional crossroads of life. Sometimes things work out. Other times it’s a disaster. Did we make the right call? How can we know for sure?
I read a book a couple years ago that took decision-making to a whole new level. It was Decisive by Chip & Dan Heath. I don’t think I’ve heard as comprehensive (or creative) a thinking process as it relates to decision-making. And the best part is that is applies to nearly all circumstances, from business (should we sue a bigger company? offer a discount on our products?) to personal (should I break up with my significant other? let my adult child move back home? buy a new TV?).
Here is a brief summary of the WRAP decision-making process the Heath brothers use:
W – Widen Your Options
The first decision-making mistake we often make is assuming a situation is binary – we chose between only two options. In reality, there are so many more possibilities.
Expand your options – Find several alternatives, not just one. Instead of deciding whether to stay or quit a job, come up with several options for making the best of a job without leaving.
Consider the opportunity cost – Determine what you give up by making a certain decision. What else could you have instead? For instance, by choosing to attend a private school, you may be choosing to not attend a public school AND buy a new car. Which would you rather have?
Benchmark – Instead of rushing out to make a decision, find someone who has already solved your problem. What did he or she do and how did it turn out? What do the experts say to do in this situation?
R – Reality-Test Your Assumptions
Once we’re leaning a certain way on a decision (and especially after we’ve made the decision), we’re often imprisoned by our confirmation bias. We want our decision to be “right,” so we look for confirmation and discount or ignore evidence to the contrary.
Consider the opposite – Look for reasons why the decision you want to make could very well be the wrong one. In other words, look at it from the standpoint of someone who disagrees completely and be willing to acknowledge the weaknesses from that side. (Maybe this could come in handy in politics).
Zoom in/out – Zoom in by asking for the real-world experience of others in the exact situation as you. (What did your friend think of the restaurant you are considering visiting?). Then zoom out by looking at the macro data (What is the overall Yelp rating for the restaurant?). Why guess when you can know?
“Ooch” – According to the Heaths, to “ooch” means to experiment on a small scale. Instead of investing tremendous effort and resources toward a decision, look for ways to test a decision before actually deciding. Hire several firms to do one project before awarding one with the big contract. Sell your pies at the farmer’s market before starting a baking business.
A – Attain Distance Before Deciding
Deciding and executing don’t need to happen at the same time. Better to take a “cooling off” period.
Overcome short-term emotion – Give yourself some time before acting on a decision. Use 10/10/10 – ask yourself how you will feel about the decision in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years. Ask what decision your successor would make in this situation (especially for high profile ones) – or how you would advise your best friend.
Honor your core priorities – Remind yourself what is most important to you. Then consider the options in light of those priorities.
P – Prepare to Be Wrong
Being “right” about a bad decision just isn’t worth it. Politics aside, remember Sarah Palin’s bridge to nowhere? At least she had a jumping off point. Opt for a correctable slip up over a colossal failure.
Bookend the future – Anticipate the future given your desired course of action. If everything goes right, what will you do? If everything goes wrong, how will you respond? Ask yourself what could go wrong and improve on it.
Set a tripwire – Decide at what point you will change course. What would make a job so bad you would finally have to leave it? How much will you invest toward a failing business (or a hobby) before you throw in the towel?
We’ll never outlive the necessity to make decisions. As stressful as it can be, it is immensely rewarding as well. Decision-making is a function of leadership. The more willing we are to make decisions (and live with the consequences), the more opportunities we’ll get.
Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader. Receive his ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website or follow him on Twitter.