Decisions are a Means to an End

Decisive CoverIn the last couple of days I have re-read one of the books I recommended off my spring reading list: Decisive: how to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath & Dan Heath.

My biggest takeaway from the book continues to be that decisions are a means to an end and therefore we want to become better at understanding and then trusting the process we can put in place to inform them.

We are like organizations in that we also create a personal infrastructure around past decisions. If we have found to have good results by doing a certain thing a certain way, we will likely repeat it.

However, as the Heath brothers point out, we owe it to ourselves to engage a simple yet more thoughtful approach, starting with widening our options. Should I go for this move or not? Creates a fairly narrow frame — either do or do not — and lulls us into not considering more creative choices. 

I was reading an article the other day about how an entrepreneur figured out how to help a very busy friend publish her story by refocusing his attention from "you need to go through the process of writing" to "publishing as a process." He got a business started out of it and challenged his initial confirmation bias — he resisted the judging thought that his friend was being lazy.

Reality-testing assumptions is a good antidote for that and one of the four core points in the book.

If decisions are a means to an end, how do we take a more informed stance? Say we don't have a crystal ball — we do not, despite the fact that we keep trying — how do we hedge our bets for the future?

It turns out a good way to do that is by shifting from trying to predict the future as if it were a point to looking at it as a range, a spectrum within two bookends — a dire scenario and a rosy one. Bookends should not be extreme, just likely to happen. This process helps prepare us to be wrong.

I even found an old friend in the book. Dion Hughes and Mark Johnson have used a technique called “playlist” in their work at Persuasion Arts & Sciences (see an interview with Dion here and a post he authored for this blog Is Your brand the Life of the Party?) to jump start creative and fresh ideas. Since they have solved the problem of creativity many times before, they can act as accelerator for agencies and brands.

Finding someone who has solved your problem is another solid idea. Plus, you probably noticed it, too, we are good at giving advice, rather poor at taking our own.

What does success look like? You will have to get the book to internalize all the pragmatic examples and tools.

When decisions are complex and involve different areas like in an organization that defines itself as “matrixed,” for example, getting buy-in up front is critical to then help speed up implementation. Using testing to experiment options for a simpler decision may be the most valuable way to improve your odds.

The Heath brothers conclude that success depends on the quality of the decisions we make and the quantity of luck we receive. Yes. That, it does.


Valeria is an experienced listener. She designs service and product experiences to help businesses rediscover the value of promises and its effect on relationships and culture. She is also frequent speaker at conferences and companies on a variety of topics. Book her to speak here.


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