How to Make a BIG Decision

Decisions - Old Ways Wont Open New Doors

We all have a few BIG decisions that we have to get right, setting the course of our company and our life. How do we make them wisely? How do we make a great decision? Simply stated, our success as business leaders equals the sum total of all the decisions we make.

New Perspective

I am always looking for a different perspective, or a new lens to examine key issues. Today I look at this NY Times article by best-selling author Steven Johnson that details the research behind making better BIG decisions. Quotes Johnson:

The ultimate limitation of the pros and cons list is that we are merely transcribing our existing understanding of the decision at hand and not seeing it with fresh eyes. “One thing a person cannot do, no matter how rigorous his analysis or heroic his imagination,” the economist and Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling once observed, “is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.”

So what do you do instead of a pros and cons list in decision-making?

The pros-versus-cons list remains perhaps the only regularly used technique for resolving a complex decision. Why hasn’t the science of making hard choices evolved?

In fact, it has according to Johnson. Over the last ten years, a growing multidisciplinary field of research has produced a set of tools that we can use to make better choices; for complex decisions that require a long period of deliberation, and whose consequences might last for decades.

Abbreviated Summary

Here is my abbreviated quick summary of his process. Please check out the full article for the details and further study.

  1. Generate alternatives to any course of action you are considering. Seek out a new option beyond the initial choices on the table. There is strong correlation between the number of alternatives deliberated and the ultimate success of the decision itself.
  2. “If you find yourself mapping a “whether or not” question, looking at a simple fork in the road, you’re almost always better off turning it into a “which one” question that gives you more available paths.
  3. What’s the best way to expand your pool of options? Diversify the group of people who are helping make the decision. This gives more perspectives and options.
  4. Assess your alternatives. He calls it a “premortem.” As the name suggests, the approach is a twist on the medical procedure of post-mortem analysis. The exercise is to imagine that it is months into the future and that your decision has been carried out. And it has failed. By forcing yourself to imagine scenarios where the decision turned out to be a disastrous one, you can think your way around those blind spots and that false sense of confidence.
  5. Once you have done all this, there comes a point where you actually have to decide. Write down a list of the values that are most important to you, and weight them. With the values weighted, you then turn to the scenarios you’ve developed for each of the options on the table. Develop a score and compare alternatives.

Executive Summary: Throw out the pros/cons list. Discover new paths and outcomes that had not been visible when you first started struggling with a decision. Get CLARITY from fresh angles and perspectives.

Contact me to discuss this process within your decision-making.

All the best

© 2018-2020 David Paul Carter. All rights reserved.

Steven Johnson (@stevenbjohnson)is the author of the forthcoming “Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most,” from which the NY Times article is adapted.


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