Decisive: A book review by Bob Morris

DecisiveDecisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work
Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Crown Business (2013)

How to make better decisions and help others to make better decisions in all domains of life

Those who have read one or more of Chip and Dan Heath’s previously published books already know that they are master raconteurs as well as keen observers of human nature in general and of the business world in particular. I also view them as anthropologists whose scope and depth of knowledge enable them to create a multi-dimensional context for the information, insights, and counsel they provide. In this instance, as their latest book’s subtitle correctly indicates, they share what they have learned about “how to make better choices in life and work.”

All of those who read this book make several dozen (sometimes several hundred) decisions each week, most of which are based on past experience, custom, habit, etc. However, there are some decisions that are very challenging, perhaps even daunting. What to do? The heaths recommend and explain what they characterize as the WRAP process: Widen Your Opinions, Reality-Test Your Assumptions, Attain Distance Before Deciding, and Prepare to Be Wrong. “We want to make you a bit better at making good decisions, and we want to help you make good decisions a bit more decisively (with appropriate confidence, as opposed to overconfidence). We also want to make you a better adviser to your colleagues and loved ones who are making decisions, because it’s usually easier to see other people’s biases than your own.” The Heaths succeed brilliantly in achieving those objectives.

They ensure that the insights they share are especially sticky by making skillful use of several reader-friendly devices that include a “Chapter X in One Page” section in Chapters 1-12. Also, three Clinics on decision making (“Should a Small Company Sue a Bigger Competitor?” “Should a young Professional Move to the City?” and “Should We Discount Our Software?”, Pages 257-266), each a mini-case study based on real-world circumstances in which the material is provided within this format: Situation, Options, Process, Verification/Authentication, and Reflection/Evaluation. Readers will also appreciate the “Overcoming Obstacles” section following the Clinics in which the Heaths provide eleven Q&As (Pages 267-272) about the common roadblocks to using the WRAP process effectively as well as extensively annotated Endnotes (Pages 273-299) and

These are among the dozens of passages that caught my eye, also listed to indicate the scope of coverage in the material. All of them explain one or more dimensions of the aforementioned process by which to “make better choices in life and work.”

o How to collaborate to generate and consider options simultaneously (Pages 50-67)
o How to find someone who has solved the given problem (68-89)
o How to consider alternative, even opposite options (92-96)
o Roger Martin and the Copper Range negotiations salvaged by evidence-driven decision making (97-101)
o When and how to “construct small experiments to test one’s hypothesis” (135-153)
o How to overcome short-term emotions (156-174)
o How to honor one’s priorities (175-192)
o How to identify and prepare for probable outcomes of a decision that range from success to adversity (194-217)
o How to determine when to increase allocation of resources or cut losses? (218-238)
o How to earn and then sustain trust for a decision making process (239-253)
o How to overcome obstacles and resistance to a decision (267-272)

Recall Chip and Dan Heath’s expressed hopes that the material they provide in this book will help their reader to achieve two objectives: to make better decisions, and, to help others to make better decisions. The key is to master each of the four steps of the WRAP process.

I presume to add two points of my own. First, although you’ll never have too much of the best information, there are times when you have to make a decision based on what you do know. No process such as WRAP is infallible because no one who uses it is infallible. Expect to make mistakes and learn from them. Also, more often than not, if at all possible, when in doubt, DON’T. Making no decision is itself a decision. To repeat, if at all possible, continue the WRAP process: consider other options, test your assumptions more rigorously, create a wider/deeper context for the given decision, and finally, embrace each mistake as a precious learning opportunity.

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