“When a company can’t seem to get its strategy straight, it’s often because of a reluctance to make truly hard choices. It is natural to want to keep options open as long as possible, rather than closing off possibilities by making explicit choices. But it is only through making and acting on choices that you can win. Yes, clear, tough choices force your hand and confine you to a path. But they also free you to focus on what matters.”
– Playing to Win by A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin (2013)
I saw this quote as I was finishing Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (affiliate link to Amazon). It’s the newest book from Chip and Dan Heath (Made to Stick and Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard.), and I suspect Lafley and Martin would agree that leaders who are reluctant to make those truly hard choices will find Decisive a Must Read.
The Heaths — Chip’s a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business and Dan’s a senior fellow at Duke’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship — open by laying out what they describe as the “four villains of decision-making: narrow framing, the confirmation bias, short-term emotion, and overconfidence in the outcome.” I might argue that “fear” of making a decision during times of great change or challenge could also have made the list but that’s a quibble.
But these are authors whose names alone are reason for me to read a book, blog post, or article. In a world flooded with business books these days, how do I define a great one?
- Stories that resonate (i.e., memorable and sticky)
- A few concepts that you can latch onto and turn into a habit.
- Takeaways that can be crystallized into a one-page summary sheet or business card and shared with teammates. BTW, read to the end and check out a great offer for people who pre-order the book.
The structure of Decisive builds on Made to Stick and Switch, with the welcome enhancement of end-of-chapter summaries. The framework is laid out efficiently in the first chapter. Why should I read the book and what am I going to get out of it? The answer is the “WRAP” process, defined as:
- Widen Your Options.
- Reality-Test Your Assumptions
- Attain Distance Before Deciding
- Prepare to Be Wrong
The Ah-Ha moment for me came with the statement that “the goal of the WRAP process is not to neutralize emotion…all we can aspire to do with the WRAP process is to help you make decisions that are good for you.
The book offers interesting stories and statistics to support their template for decision-making. There’s a nice one-page summary of the basic principles but I do believe that readers will find the book validates some of their existing decision-making strategies and offer some new ideas that they can try. I kept finding myself comparing their approach to the one that Ron Shapiro takes toward negotiations preparation with co-author Mark Jankowski (first and foremost, in The Power of Nice).
A book like this works best when you try out a strategy and turn it into a habit. Apply “ooching” to a current decision within 24 hours of reading the book. Asking yourself what your successor would do or what you’d advise a friend who faces the same decision. Setting a tripwire to get your attention at the right time. Doing a premortem to prepare for a bad outcome or a preparade to anticipate a good one. The point is that you need turn only one of the strategies into a habit to make the book a phenomenal value — and I suspect every reader will find a few.
Are there times when the book feels it could have been edited more aggressively? Perhaps. But it’s designed to let you skip around (or ahead) if a section isn’t totally grabbing you. I also liked the suggestions for additional readings that are provided at the end, and thought the Heaths did a nice job of creating a few case studies that show you how to apply the WRAP framework to your own decisions.
There’s no question that this is a great book for people who are empowered to make decisions and those who can influence others, but I asked Dan what you can do if you’re in an organization that struggles to make decisions.
“At a certain point, these issues become less about decision-making and more about culture,” he quickly responded back by e-mail. “When people have decision-making phobia, as you describe, I almost think the Switch framework is a better fit for thinking about the problem, because it hinges so much on behavior change and herd behavior. I wish there was an easier answer.” (and, yes, that’s another affiliate link to Amazon).
There are no easy answers when it comes to decision-making. But Decisive makes the process much easier and manageable.
One other quick note. Even though I received an advance copy, I also pre-ordered it for my Nook because it’s a book I want close by at all times. The book will be available March 26 but if you pre-order — even if you pre-order an e-book — you’ll get lots of cool stuff, including the one-page summary, some podcasts, a signed bookplate, and the very cool bright-green Decisive Advice Ball pictured on the cover of the book. Just send a copy of your pre-order receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org.