Jun 6, 2013

Books on Work: Decisive by Chip and Dan Heath, Part One

On Mondays in June we’ll be discussing Chip and Dan Heath’s latest book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. This week we cover the introduction through chapter four.

Chip and Dan Heath want to help us make better decisions. It is not enough, they say, to understand why we make the mistakes we do. If we truly want to improve the outcomes of our decisions we must come up with a better process. This is what these industrious brothers hope to achieve in their latest book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.

The main reason we have trouble making good choices, the authors say, is because we give too much weight to the information that’s right in front of us, while failing to consider the information that’s just offstage. This is a tendency the Heath brothers call the “spotlight” effect.

There are four primary biases we lean toward in the spotlight effect.

1. A narrow framework

2. The confirmation bias

3. Giving in to short-term emotions

4. Overconfidence about how the future will unfold

Chip and Dan Heath call these biases the “Four Villains of Decision Making.” Section one of Decisive addresses villain # 1 and is entitled: Widen Your Options.

The authors suggest three primary ways we can widen our options and increase the chance of a more successful outcome. First, if we avoid a narrow frame we allow ourselves to be open to more creative solutions and consider more data. Often times, when making decisions, we limit ourselves to “should we do this or not?” outcomes when, in reality, there are many more possible solutions to the problem we are tackling. When we commit ourselves to a binary framework, we become invested in trying to make the chosen option a success. Instead, the authors suggest, we should be asking, “Is there a better way?” or “What else could we do?”

To avoid a narrow frame we must move the spotlight–or make a deliberate effort to consider other options than those that obviously present themselves. In fact, the authors suggest that when we hear a decision posed as “whether or not” it should be done, this should raise a red flag in our minds and cue us to widen our frame. Two ways to help us do this are thinking about opportunity costs (think about what is given up when a certain decision is made) and trying the Vanishing Options Test (what if the current options disappeared? What would you do then?).

A second way to widen our options is to multitrack. Multitracking involves considering more than one option simultaneously. Considering multiple solutions at the same time has been found to improve creativity and effectiveness. Multitracking also encourages a blending of a “prevention focus” mindset—a very cautious approach to problems that promotes an avoidance of negative outcomes—and a “promotion focus” mindset—one in which a culture of optimism leads us to pursue positive outcomes, sometimes in the presence of evidence that should discourage such.

The wisest decisions, the authors say, may combine the caution of the prevention mindset with the enthusiasm of the promotion mindset. Multitracking encourages a blending of these two mindsets.

A third way to widen options is to find someone who’s already solved your problem. The authors encourage looking both outside and inside one’s organization to help identify best practices. The Heath brothers mention Sam Walton of Walmart as someone who did this particularly well. Walton became an early adopter of the central checkout line after seeing a competitor employ this technique. He regularly traveled to faraway places just to learn from other retailers. Walton once joked, “I’ll bet I’ve been in more Kmarts than anybody.”

So now we know how to defeat that dark villain of the narrow frame, right? If we avoid binary solutions, multitrack, and find someone who has solved our problem we are well on our way to better decision making—at work and at home. Next week we tackle villain #2: the confirmation bias. Join us as Glynn Young leads our discussion on part 2 of Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work: Reality Test Your Assumptions.  

Also, we're giving away two copies of network member Billy Coffey's new novel When Mockingbird's Sing each week of our June book club! Just leave a comment to be entered to win. Winners will be announced in next week's book club post. The winners of last week's drawing for The Life of the Body are Martha Orlando and Dea Moore. I'll be in touch ladies!

Image by Daniele Civello. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr. Post by Laura J. Boggess.

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