Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work Summary

Post Last Updated: November 21, 2021

Why does strategic thinking seem so tough sometimes? Why are some scenarios very scary to deal with, especially when there’s a need to be decisive? Is there a decision making framework which we could tap into to help in these situations?

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, by Chip and Dan Heath, is all about improving your decision making.

In Decisive, you will learn about the villains and common pitfalls many people struggle with in making decisions, and a framework to enable better decision making.

Being able to make good decisions is a great skill to have. Decision making is a key component to becoming better as a person, making more money, and climbing the corporate ladder.

Are you looking to become a better decision maker? Would you like to make better choices in life and work?

The rest of this post includes a summary of Decisive, takeaways from Decisive, and a reading recommendation for you.

“A remarkable aspect of your mental life is that are rarely stumped”. – Daniel Kahneman

Book Summary of Decisive

Decisive is a book all about decision making. In the first part of Decisive, the authors talk about the four villains of decision making. After discussing these villains of decision making, the authors provide a decision making framework to make better decisions.

As discussed in Decisive, there are four villains of decision making:

  • Narrow Framing
    • People naturally view a problem as “this or that”
  • The Confirmation Bias
    • People naturally will seek information that support their beliefs and this tends to warp their understanding and perspective
  • Short-Term Emotion
    • People are influenced by emotions that will fade over time
  • Overconfidence
    • People generally will have too much faith in their predictions

To overcome these four villains, the authors discuss the W.R.A.P framework for better decision making. The W.R.A.P. framework is as follows:

  • W = Widen Your Options
  • R = Reality Test Your Assumptions
  • A = Attain Distance Before Deciding
  • P = Prepare to Be Wrong

Below, let’s go into each of these in further detail.

Widen Your Options

The first thing to do when looking to become a better decision maker is to widen your options. If you are tasked with making a decision, it is important to think about all of the possibilities, rather than be closed minded.

When looking to make a decision, people should consider more than one option, and adopt a “this and that” mindset.

When studying companies, only 29% of organizations considered more than one alternative (versus 30% of teenagers). Often our options are more plentiful than we think.

Considering opportunity cost can help you avoid a narrow frame (what am I giving up by going down this path?).

A few strategies to widen your options include:

  • The “Vanishing Options Test”
    • What if your options disappeared? What would you do then?
  • Ladder up
    • For example, a swimsuit firm looked at sharks to develop technology to build a high performing swimsuit
  • If you feel stuck, look for someone else who has solved your problem
    • No need to reinvent the wheel!

When you consider multiple options simultaneously, you learn the “shape” of the problem. By widening your options, you can understand the problem better, and be more unique and original with your solution.

Reality Test Your Assumptions

After widening your options, the second strategy for making better choices is reality testing your assumptions.

To reality test your assumptions, you can do the following:

  • Consider the opposite
    • Considering the opposite can help you understand the problem more fully.
  • Spark constructive disagreement within our organizations
    • Ask “What would have to be true for this option to be the very best choice?”
  • Test your assumptions with deliberate mistakes
    • An example in the book was a women who went out on a date with a guy who wasn’t her “type”. She ended up marrying the guy!
  • Ooch – run small experiments to test your theories.
    • Rather than jumping head first, dip a toe in.

Some other ways you can reality test your assumptions is looking to figure out the average and base case of a scenario.

For finding the average and base rate of a situation, it’s important to be rational and think critically.

If you can’t find the “base rates” for your decision, ask an expert. Experts are good at estimating base rates, but bad at predicting.

To gather the best information, zoom in and zoom out. Consider both the minute details and the big picture.

By reality testing your assumptions, you’ll be in a better spot to make a good decision.

Attain Distance before Deciding

After reality testing your assumptions, it can be best practice to take a step back and attain distance before making a final decision.

Fleeting emotions tempt us to make decision that are bad in the long term. For example, sales people are trained to prey on customers’ emotions.

To attain distance before deciding on a major decision, you can do the following:

  • Use the 10/10/10 strategy
    • How will I feel in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years about this situation?
  • Ask yourself: “What would I tell my best friend to do in the same situation?”
  • Examine your core priorities and principles. Look at your long-term emotional values, goals, aspirations.
    • What kind of person do you want to be?
    • What kind of organization do you want to build?
    • The goal isn’t to eliminate emotions, but to honor the emotions that count.

Our decisions are often altered by 2 subtle short-term emotions: mere exposure, we like what’s familiar, and loss aversion, losses are more painful than gains.

A study showed students wouldn’t sell a mug for $7 when they wouldn’t pay more than $3 for it.

After distancing yourself from the problem, you can gain a better perspective on the situation.

Prepare to Be Wrong

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to predict the future. When making a decision, realize that you may be wrong.

And this is okay.

For thinking about what could happen, remember the future is not a “point”, but a range of possibilities.

One great strategy when looking to make a decision is using the concept of bookends. Consider the best case and worst case scenarios (in the book, these are called the pre-parade and pre-mortem scenarios):

  • Examine the pre-mortem scenario: “It’s a year from now. Our decision has failed utterly. Why?”
  • Examine the pre-parade scenario: “It’s a year from now. We’re heroes. Will we be ready for success?”.

By bookending, anticipating and preparing for both adversity and success, we stack the deck in favor of our decisions.

After making a decision, to make sure we don’t compound on bad decisions, it’s important to create tripwires.

Creating tripwires is asking the question, “If we aren’t successful by this future date, we will kill the project.”

Tripwires help since we tend to escalate our attachment to a project that is going poorly. Many powerful tripwires are triggered by patterns rather than dates, metrics, or budgets.

With these 4 decision making strategies, we can make better decisions in our life, work and career.

Takeaways from Decisive

With every book you read, it is a must to have takeaways and actionable items to implement in life.

For Decisive, the two main takeaways which stuck with me over time have been the bookending method, and using the 10/10/10 strategy.

Many people, including myself, look at the worst case scenario when thinking about something outside of our control and comfort zone.

However, this is just one case in a range of possibilities.

After thinking about the worst case scenario, it’s important to also think about the best case scenario, and realize the end result will probably land somewhere in the middle.

With the second takeaway, by applying the 10/10/10 strategy, I’ve been more strategic with my daily purchases and expenses.

A lot of times, I’ll be¬†craving¬†some snack. Then, I’ll think that in 10 minutes, or 10 months, I won’t even remember my craving, and I’ll be fine.

This helps me save money and stay healthy.

There are many amazing takeaways in Decisive, and I highly recommend this book.

Our Recommendation for Decisive

Making good decisions is so critical for success in this world. By making better choices in your life and work, you can avoid headache and reach your goals.

Decisive is a fantastic book which will challenge your thinking and mindset. Through learning about making better choices, you can open your mind to all of the fantastic possibilities of the world.

Readers: do you use a strategy for decision making? Do you fall victim to the villians ever?