We face important decisions in our work and personal life, but it is not surprising that our decisions are frequently flawed. For example, in a survey it was found that 44 percent of lawyers would not recommend a young person to pursue a career in law, 40 percent of people got their tattoo reversed, 88 percent of New Year Resolutions are broken etc. and mind it business decisions, where rigorous analysis is done, are also flawed like in a KPMG study, it was found that in 700 mergers and acquisitions deals, 83 percent of such deals failed to create any value for shareholders. So why we all are collectively wrong?

The best-selling author, Dan Heath and Chip Heath in their book Decisive, How to make better decision in Life, explains why we often go so wrong and how we can improve the decision making process. A better decision-making process substantially improves the quality and outcome of decision. If we aspire to make better decisions, then we must understand how some mind functions work, how biases affect and how we can fight them.

Avoid a Narrow Frame

In a theatre, at the center of stage, a ‘spotlight’ attracts all of our attention but it only lights up only a ‘spot’. We are so much immersed in what the light shows to us that we forget to see everything else. In real life, when we want to take any decision, our mental spotlight takes decision only on the basis of the information available in front of us and very few of us assess all the options needed to make an informed and good decision. 

To make a good decision, we need to avoid a narrow frame by widening our options and comparing all the alternatives. For example, if you want to buy a flat, instead of going for 2-3 options, compare it with 7-8 more flats or before you invest in a particular company in stock market, compare it with 5-6 more companies or if you are looking for job, instead of applying to 1 recruiter give at least 3-4 interviews before taking a job.

Widening the options and comparing the alternatives help in improving our understanding of the situations we are facing, help in clubbing the best features of our options and also help us to keep egos in check if many people are involved in decision making. But most of the times, it is hard to recognize and accept that we are in a narrow frame because we are blind and don’t know the existence of meaningful distinct options.

Reality Test of the Assumptions

Researchers find it again and again that when people have the opportunity to collect information from the outside world, they are more likely to select information that supports their pre-existing attitudes, beliefs and actions. For example, if you like Iphone you will find plenty of reasons to justify your purchase or if you endorse a political party, you will find plenty of reasons to justify your endorsement of that political party and so on. You will always try to justify all of your actions and beliefs.

Confirmation bias in favor of our own beliefs leads us to look for information that flatters our existing belief and this bias can make us to take wrong and flawed decisions. An example of such bias in business management is a classic case of Kodak which was once pioneer of film based photography. After reaching a peak capitalization of $31 billion in 1997, Kodak began to decline and by 2011, the company market cap was below $2 billion and in January 2012 it filed for bankruptcy. The story of decline is complex but one factor was that the upper management was biased and never admitted the fact that future belonged to digital cameras and Kodak was unable to adapt to digital cameras.

To avoid this trap of collecting only self-serving information, we’ve got to do Reality Test of Our Assumptions. There are various ways to fight confirmation bias which will surely improve the quality of decision. First, you can make it easier for people for disagree with your opinion for example if you’re CEO, you must ensure that dissenting opinion must be heard in the organization. Second, you need to be diligent about how you collect the information by seeking only right information and third, you should run a small experiment to test your ideas and theories rather than being overconfident about the future.

Attain Distance Before Deciding

When people recall their worst decision they have made in their life, they often reflect on decision made in the grip of anger, anxiety, lust or greed. Our emotions plays an equally important role as much as our brain when it comes to take any decision but sometimes our short-term emotions outweigh the rational mind and forces us to take a quick and rash decision.

One of the important qualities of leadership is to overcome short term-emotions to create long-lasting organizations. For example, Intel in 1980s was the largest memory chipmaker and company’s profitable business but the company overcome short-term emotions of posting profit with memory chips and abandoned memory chips business to invest in futuristic microprocessors technology. The rest is history, Intel is the largest producer of microprocessors and if you have invested $100 in Intel in 1980s, it would have become $6000 by 2000.

Widening the options and doing reality test of the assumptions help us to avoid bad decision, but it is only by looking at a bigger and future picture, we can make a good decision by avoiding short-term temptations . In our personal lives too, only by avoiding the short term pleasure of junk food, scrolling down the mobile screens, procrastinating etc. can we live a healthy and focused life. To overcome the short-term emotions means honoring the core priorities rather than giving in short-term emotions at the expense of future growth.

Takeaway

Our decisions will never be perfect, but they can be better, bolder and wiser. Decisiveness is the way of behaving which allows us to make brave and confident choices not because we know we will be right but because it is better to understand to take precaution than regretting it later.

So widen you options, compare the alternatives, do reality test of your assumptions and attain some distance before decision and even if you fail, apply the lessons next time!

Suggested Reading: Factfulness, Things are better than you think

Stay tuned for the next article, till then stay safe and curious.

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