Each day, all day, we make decisions. Often, these many decisions are simple: what to wear, where to eat, and how best to churn through the tasks on our to-do list. Sometimes the stakes are higher: how should we address an employee issue, should we make a career change, or do we stay the course with our business plan? In either case, we generally narrow the choices down to two solutions, create a mental list of pros and cons, and make our decision based on the results.
According to Chip and Dan Heath’s new book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, we’re doing it all wrong. Our gut instincts are loaded with bias, and the pros and cons we create—even though our intent is to be objective—are based on those biased gut reactions:
Generating distinct options is even more difficult when our minds settle into certain well-worn grooves. Two of those grooves are common states of mind, studied widely by researchers, that play a role in almost every decision we make. One is triggered when we think about avoiding bad things, and one is triggered when we think about pursuing good things. When we’re in one state, we tend to ignore the other.
Instead, the Heaths recommend building a process by which to make better decisions. To start, they quote Steve Cole, VP of R&D at HopeLab, who said, “Any time in life you’re tempted to think, ‘Should I do this OR that?’ instead, ask yourself, ‘Is there a way I can do this AND that?” This kind of broader thinking about a situation is what the authors find an innovative, more risk-averse method of deciding what to do. From there, the Heaths explore a variety of process building scenarios: consider opposites, find previous solutions to the same problem, overcome short-term emotion, and more. And with each scenario, they present real examples of these processes (and their outcomes) in action.
Those who have read the Heaths’ previous books, Made to Stick and Switch, know they are great writers. Their books are filled with clever stories, detailed research told in a relatable way, and as a result, each page simply makes you think, and think more clearly. But what elevates their books above many others is that they operate both as “how-to” guides as well as social insight. You can read them to change what you do or how you think, and in the process, you’ll understand the world a bit better. Because decision-making is one of the great challenges for leaders, entrepreneurs, and really anyone trying to manage a career, this book is an important one.