I read “Decisive” by Dan Heath and Chip Heath recently and picked up a few techniques on making great decisions. It's definitely worth a quick read. The most common technique for decision making is the Pros and Cons table. But this technique is insufficient. It does not take into account the four villains of decision making, which are:
1) Emotional Ties, 2) Narrow Framing,3) Confirmation Bias, 4) Over Confidence.
Ever have a friend walk up to your problem and give you a clear perspective? That’s a sign of emotional ties acting to weigh down our perspective. Daily contact with our projects gives us depth, but also gives us attachment. To make an objective decision, we can attain distance before deciding by using these techniques:
- Ask : What would I advise my best friend to do in this situation?
- Ask : What would my successor do?
- Try the 10-10-10 rule. How would I feel in 10 minutes, 10 months, 10 years for each of the decision options?
We are often making binary decisions when there may be more options. We may ask ourselves: Should we implement solution A or solution B? Should we ship feature A or not? Framing the question this way can block us from seeing other alternatives. Maybe the decision should be: Should we ship feature A, A+, B, C or keep the money? It is most common to overlook the opportunity cost. Not doing something is often the choice overlooked. To avoid narrow framing, try:
- Zooming in and out. By expanding and contracting the range of consideration, its often possible to capture the right range of options to consider.
- Asking other people. Other people have different perspectives of the same problem. So including others in our decision, especially those with a different world-view, can help avoid narrow framing.
The human brain is very good at justifying decisions made by our hearts. That’s why statistics can be construed to proof just about any point of view. It’s also easy to ask leading questions that force the person answering into confirming the point rather than truly answering. To avoid confirmation bias, ask discovering questions and reality test our assumptions:
- Ask discovering questions. Ask open ended questions such as “How would you approach this issue?” rather than leading questions such as “Don’t you think solution X is a good idea?"
- Take our options for a reality spin. Establish a range of possible outcomes, then create A/B tests to test our assumptions.
It turns out we are really bad at predictions. The author reviewed expert predictions by expert investors and showed that it performed no better than amateur predictions. There are techniques to minimize the risks, mainly by being prepared for a range of possible outcomes. Here’s how it works:
- Use the “book ends” prediction method. Predict a range of outcomes, then optimize within the outcomes. For example, and this is an example only, don’t take this as investment advice. Instead of predicting the fair market value of a stock price, predict the lower and upper end a fair market value range. Then buy in during the low end of the established range. This method goes for the lowest risk and highest upside investment without knowing the outcome.
- Do a Pre-mortem. Imagine your project failed, what could have caused it to fail?
- Do a Pre-parade. Imagine your project was a wild success, what could have caused it to be so successful?
Finally, good decisions are guided by Critical Priorities. That’s why companies have mission statements, and why something similar is useful for our personal lives too. To avoid decision paralysis, use critical priorities as guiding principles, exercise the techniques above, then make the decision. To avoid agonizing over the decision, add trip wires. These are conditions that would trigger a re-decision. Set up these trip wires so that you receive an alarm when the decision should be re-evaluated, and sleep well tonight knowing that you have made the best possible decision. Learn more by reading the book.