Extract #1: How do YOU make a Decision?

If you think about a normal decision process, it usually proceeds in four steps:

  1. You encounter a choice.
  2. You analyze your options.
  3. You make a choice.
  4. Then you live with it.

How do Decisions go Wrong?

There is a villain that afflicts each of these stages:

  • You encounter a choice. But narrow framing makes you miss options.
  • You analyze your options. But the confirmation bias leads you to gather self-serving information.
  • You make a choice. But short-term emotion will often tempt you to make the wrong one.
  • Then you live with it. But you'll often be overconfident about how the future will unfold.

Narrow Framing

We had conversations with three people who were wondering whether to quit their jobs.

All three of them saw only a binary choice: I’m trying to decide whether or not I should leave.

Incredibly, none of these people were considering the obvious third option: to change their situation! Couldn’t you talk to your boss about a different set of duties?

These were smart people who were trapped in a kind of cognitive bubble.

Yet what makes narrow framing remarkable, among the four villains of decision making, is how easy it is to correct. The lightest prick often bursts the bubble.

To burst the bubble, try the Vanishing Options test:

What if you couldn’t do any of the things you’re considering – what else might you try?

What if you were forced to invest your time or money in something else – what would be the next-best pick?

Extract #2: The Antidote to Hubris is… DISAGREEMENT

 Alfred Sloan, the longtime CEO and chairman of General Motors, once interrupted a committee meeting with a question:

Alfred Sloan

Gentlemen, I take it we are all in complete agreement on the decision here?”

All the committee members nodded.

Then,” Sloan said, “I propose we postpone further discussion of this matter until our next meeting to give ourselves time to develop disagreement and perhaps gain some understanding of what this decision is about.”

The Noble Critic

For centuries, the Catholic Chuch made use of a “devil’s advocate” in deciding who would be named a saint. The devil’s advocate was known inside the church as the promotor fidei – the “promoter of the faith” – and his role was to build a case against sainthood.

The post was abolished in 1983 by Pope John Paul II, after 400 years. The number of successful 'canonisations' (turning mortals into saints) went up 20-fold. And has stayed there ever since.

In our individual decisions, how many of us have ever consciously sought out people we knew would disagree with us?

Devil’s advocacy isn’t the need for a formal contrarian position; it’s the need to interpret criticism as a noble function.

An effective promotor fidei is not an argumentative smarty-pants; it’s someone who deeply respects the Catholic Church and is trying to defend the faith by surfacing contrary arguments (Who wants to argue against someone who’s lived a life so admirable that they merit consideration as a saint?).

It puts the team members in the role of “protecting the organization,” and it licenses their skepticism.

Extract #3: Assume Positive Intent

Our relationships at work are sometimes corrupted by negative assumptions that snowball over time. To interrupt this cycle, some organizational leaders urge their employees to “assume positive intent”.

Imagine that the behaviour or words of your colleagues are motivated by good intentions, even when their actions seem objectionable at first glance.

Indra Nooyi, the chairman and CEO of PepsiCo, cited it to Fortune as the best advice she ever received (She learned it from her father).

“When you assume negative intent, you’re angry. If you take away that anger and assume positive intent, you will be amazed… You don’t get defensive. You don’t scream. You are trying to understand and listen because at your basic core you are saying, ‘Maybe they are saying something to me that I’m not hearing’.”

Indra Nooyi

10 / 10 / 10

There’s a tool we can use to accomplish emotion sorting. It’s called 10/10/10, and Suzy Welch describes it in a book of the same name. To use 10/10/10, we think about our decisions on three different time frames:

How will we feel about it 10 minutes from now? How about 10 months from now? How about 10 years from now?

10/10/10 helps to level the emotional playing field. What we’re feeling now is intense and sharp, while the future feels fuzzier. That discrepancy gives the present too much power, because our present emotions are always in the spotlight. 10/10/10 forces us to imagine a moment 10 months into the future with the same “freshness” that we feel in the present.

That shift can help us to keep our short-term emotions in perspective.

It’s not that we should ignore our short-term emotions; often they are telling us something useful about what we want in a situation. But we should not let them be the boss of us.

Extracts copyright Chip & Dan Heath.

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