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Ten things I learned from “Decisive - how to make better choices in life and work” by Chip and Dan Heath

The back cover of this book (published in 2013) promises “a fascinating tour through the workings of our minds and an invaluable guide to making smarter decisions.” Cutting to the chase, this is exactly what it delivers. In equal parts, interesting, practical and inspiring, this book hits the mark. Having put it down, however, a question developed in my mind: well if it is that simple, why aren’t we all making better decisions already?

The answer, I believe, lies somewhere between the peculiarities of human behaviour (as picked up on by the recent BBC Horizon program) and the everyday pressures and stresses of working life. When read in a book, sitting in quiet room, the advice given by Chip and Dan is clear and simple – life, however, is anything but. Yet strive to improve we do, and with this post my aim is to share the 10 most interesting and potentially useful messages I took from ‘Decisive’. (I’ve included a brief explanation with each one but for a more comprehensive description I suggest reading the original!)

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#1 - Process is more important than analysis – by a factor of 6. Yes, analysis is helpful, but without a process to guide the decision the analysis risks being rudderless. Evidence shows a good process will help you make better decisions – apparently by a factor of 6

#2 - Exposure bias and a prevention mindset skews decision making. Familiarity breeds complacency and increases your likelihood of selecting options you have been exposed to most. Couple that with the brain’s tendency to feel losses more strongly than gains and you have a fast track to status quo maintenance, which is not a good scenario for strong decision making

#3 - What would your best friend do? What would your successors do? These questions can help expand your frame of thinking, which can help identify additional options and gain perspective. A related question for Pharma is what would your competitors do?

#4 - The vanishing options test. What if the current options you are considering were simply not possible, what else could you do? Necessity is the mother of invention! Again, this is a helpful tool for expanding your frame of mind

#5 – Use the 10/10/10 test. You are deliberating a decision - imagine you have picked one option - how would you feel about that decision in 10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years? Would you still make that choice?

#6 – Identify and embrace your core priorities. What is important to you will be different to what is important to your neighbour; likewise a good decision for your neighbour might not be a good decision for you. Decision making is personal so understanding and embracing your core priorities will guide your decision making

#7 - Create a ‘stop doing list’ to free up time for core priorities. Having identified our core priorities, we need to increase our focus on them - they are core after all. In this era of time poverty this will likely mean decreasing focus/time spent on other things – unlike our to-do lists, time does not expand – something needs to give... a fact not lost on Barack Obama

#8 – Multi-track and prepare to waste time and be wrong. Many dead ends are often needed before the right path is found. Embracing this and not cutting off your options too early may allow you to learn from your ‘mistakes’ and make a better decision long term

#9 - Conduct a pre-mortem. Assume you have chosen option A, but image that A has failed. Ask yourself why? Under what circumstances would A fail? Does A still seem like a good choice?

#10 - Why guess when you can test? Test your fears or preconceptions and see what happens – right or wrong, you will learn something. Gut feel has its uses, but why not reframe your decision as an experiment? This can help remove untrustworthy human emotions, but it is also important that you allow yourself to trust the test results

And of course there are many other worthwhile ideas discussed in the book. But my question to you today is simple: which of these tips will you try to employ to aid your decision making over the coming month?

The decision is yours to make....


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