Book review by Stuart Ayling
Title: Decisive – how to make better choices in life and work
Author: Chip and Dan Heath
Published: 2013, 315 pages
What is the book about? What are the key messages?
One of the key questions this book keeps coming back to is:
Why do we have such a hard time making good decisions?
- We make decisions based on emotions.
- We don’t consider long term implications.
- We like to trust our gut, even though that doesn’t work.
- We don’t look at alternate options.
- etc etc
In the book the authors present many actual examples covering work and business decisions (many from a management perspective), career choices and personal situations. So there is something in the book for everyone, even if you don’t run or manage a business.
The authors base the book around the 4 step decision making model they have developed called WRAP. Each section of the book addresses one of the components of WRAP giving a good explanation of why it is part of the model, research studies and statistics to back it up, and discussion on real life examples of applying the model.
W = Widen your options
Most times people are restricted by ‘narrow framing’. This means you don’t look at alternative options, it’s usually a yes or no decision you ask yourself, that is, “Whether or not” you should do something. However we could find new options by speaking with someone else who has solved the problem before, look for current ‘bright spots’, or compare with related domains.
R = Reality-test your assumptions
A trait known as ‘confirmation bias’ makes us prone to seek information, or more readily accept information we find, that supports what we already know or believe. We need to use a more impartial method of testing the options through taking small steps or experiments to see what the real outcomes are, or try zooming out (looking for base rates) or zoom in (to see more texture).
A = Attain distance before deciding
We are all affected by short term emotions, and that often tempts us to make decisions now that are bad for us in the long term. To make better decsions we need to shift perspective by asking ourselves “What would I tell my best friend to do?” or in a business setting “What would my successor do about this?”. For some difficult decisions we may need to revisit and clarify our core priorities.
P = Prepare to be wrong
Most people are over confident in the decisions they make. We like to think we know how the future will unfold when really we don’t. To combat this overconfidence we can prepare for bad outcomes (do a premortem), and prepare for good outcomes (a preparade). And to prevent the slow creep of changing perspective, we can set a ‘tripwire’ to indicate when we need to act, or to get our attention at the right moment.
Note – there are lots more tips and techniques provided in the book for each of the WRAP stages. I have just listed a few above.
One of the great things these authors do is to provide free resources you can use to review and apply the model for yourself. Through their website www.heathbrothers.com they provide stacks of great tools. Of course if you haven’t read the book the tools don’t make as much sense.
In fact the final 40 pages of the book is taken up by extensive End Notes (references and explanations for the research quoted), recommendations for further reading, next steps links, and three ‘clinics’ in which the authors discuss how to apply the model to specific real-world situations.
Be aware the authors do not promote this model as a way of making perfect decisions. They readily admit it is the process that is important – using the process/model leads to better decisions, not perfect decisions.
What I did not like:
Nothing. There is nothing about this book I did not like. It is easy to read, backed up with facts where necessary, and contains a good mixture of business and personal scenarios (but it is more business focused).
The only draw back is that the topic is quite involved. There is no ‘quick fix’. However the tools and techniques the authors present come together in a very practical way that makes it easy to see how you can use them in real life.
My Reading Recommendation
(Ratings go from 1 to 5, with 1 being ‘leave it alone’ and 5 being ‘must read’)
I rate this book a 5. These guys know how to write in a way that helps you take action.