Decide: A book review by Bob Morris

DecideDecide: Better Ways of Making Better Decisions
David Wethey
KoganPage Limited (2013)

For better or worse, our lives are the consequences of our decisions

According to David Wethey, “Decision science is a complex and rich academic area, quite apart from its importance in every aspect of human life.” He continues to make substantial contributions to that science, with this book (obviously) but also with on-going research that he discusses while introducing himself in the “My Story” section that precedes the Introduction to the book. His mission in life is to help as many people as possible to develop the same skills that Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis examine while explaining, in their book Judgment, how winning leaders make great calls. In the first chapter, they assert that what really matters “is not how many calls a leader gets right, or even what percentage of calls a leader gets right. Rather it is important how many of the important ones he or she gets right.” They go on to suggest that effective leaders “not only make better calls, but they are able to discern the really important ones and get a higher percentage of them right. They are better at a whole process that runs from seeing the need for a call, to framing issues, to figuring out what is critical, to mobilizing and energizing the troops.”

Wethey believes (and I agree) that almost anyone can develop the same skills. Being able to decide which decisions to make is one of the most important. In fact, each of us makes several hundred decisions each day and most are “no brainers.” But there are others that require sound judgment, indeed a process, and these decisions can determine what the consequences will be, for better or worse, for entire organizations as well as for individuals. Whatever their size and nature may be, all organizations need sound decision making at all levels and in all areas of operation.

I commend Wethey on his brilliant use of several reader-devices that include dozens of “blog extracts” inserted strategically throughout his narrative. They “mostly relate to a specific event or controversy, which hopefully will make them sharper and more relevant than mere theory; and secondly, they are easy to read at around 400-500 words!” They demonstrate all manner of decision dilemma situations, many with which readers can identify. He also shares the real-world experiences of others who are involved in a decision making process. There are many different paths to a decision, sound or otherwise. Wethey also draws upon an abundance of primary and secondary resources, including his own experiences in 38 different countries with several different companies such as the A.C. Nielsen Company, McCann-Erickson, other smaller advertising agencies, and most recently Agency Assessments International (AAI).

Since completing the book, he has decided not to “run any more pitches asking agencies for free goods — and [aim] to convert the whole industry to a better way. Scary, but the right thing to do. An instinctive decision with rational back-up. And yes, I slept on it before pressing the button!”

These are among the passages that caught my eye, also listed to suggest the scope of Wethey’s coverage:

o How do we explain seriously bad decisions?, and, Why do things that aren’t a good idea? (Pages 41-44)
o Decision Traps (53-54)
o Was the financial crisis caused by Decision Traps?, and, What makes a decision bad? (62-65)
o Before embarking on a big decision you have to define the opportunity or solve the problem (69-71)
o Capitalizing on opportunities (71-77)
o Problem-solving techniques (89-91)
o The Holy Grail – better decisions, and, A smart way to masker decisions better (92-97)
o The emotional side of decision making (100-101)
o Difficult decisions (117-120)
o Highlights on decision making from the interviews (124-131)
o Why are meetings so frustrating?, and, What can go wrong with meetings (150-153)
o Blamers and Pacifiers (171-172)
o High confidence, low self-esteem (175-180)
o Steve Jobs – The most effectual thinker of our era (186-187)
o Three dimensions of choice (195-198)

In the final chapter, Wethey offers his 20 best decision tips. “My number 1 decision tip is that every decision – even one we have to take quickly – is a journey, not a single step. The journey looks like this” and Wethey provides a series of components followed by the other 19 tips.

I finished reading this book on April 15th, the day two bombs were detonated near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Most of the first responders were not formally trained in medical care but did not hesitate to offer immediate assistance. The same was true of the teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. As David Wethey explains so well, there are crisis situation when there is little (if any) time for situation analysis, evaluation of options, etc. There really are better ways to make better decisions and most of them are explained in this book.

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