How to Make Better Decisions

By: Kristin Clarke

Chip and Dan Heath on avoiding poor decisions. [Titled "Deciding Factors" in the print edition.]

Smart people make poor decisions that could be avoided if certain tools are applied, according to researchers Chip and Dan Heath.

In their latest book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work, the brothers focus on solutions to "traps" people often encounter en route to a final choice.

Here are two tools included in the Heaths' four-step WRAP process (widen your options; reality-test your assumptions; attain distance before deciding; and prepare to be wrong):

The Playlist. "Leaders repeatedly make the same types of decisions, so shouldn't they learn from strategies used by previous leaders [in] those same situations?" says Dan Heath.

"For instance, every manager will struggle at some point with an underperforming employee. Wouldn't it be great to have a 'playlist' with a dozen reliable strategies for handling that situation? [Then] you've got concrete proof your organization is getting more diligent about decision-making."

Ooching. Heath's favorite decision tool involves "conducting small experiments to assess your options, rather than agonizing about pros and cons," he says. "For example, countless students enroll in graduate school … even though they've never spent a day in a law office, hospital, or pharmacy. … What's interesting is that [they] spent hours mentally debating whether grad school was the right option. All that mental activity was worthless compared to what they could have learned by ooching: simply spending a week [alongside] a pharmacist or lawyer.

"That's a mistake lots of us make," he says. "We get stuck in our own heads, and we miss the opportunity to gather real-world data."

Contributed by Kristin Clarke, a business journalist and writer for ASAE. Email: [email protected]

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Dan Heath will be the Closing General Session speaker at the 2013 ASAE Annual Meeting & Exposition August 3-6 in Atlanta.

Kristin Clarke

Kristin Clarke is books editor for Associations Now and a business journalist and sustainability director for ASAE.