Decisive Book Review

Decisive Chip Heath Dan HeathI first heard of the Heath brothers, Chip and Dan, back in my college days when I had subscription to the well-known business magazine, Fast Company. The brothers regularly wrote columns that I found a bit quirky, thought-provoking, and absolutely fascinating. After getting hooked on their writing for the magazine, I bought a copy of Switch, a book they co-authored on the topic of making personal or organization changes. I liked the book so much that I continued to track with their writing and subscribed to their mailing list. Fast forwarding to a few weeks ago, Dan announced that they were about to release a brand new book called Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work on the topic of making better choices. Being such a fan of their books, I replied to Dan’s email offering to review their new book.  Within a few days, I had an advance copy waiting in my mailbox.

“Decisive: How To Make Better Choices in Life and Work takes a close look at the frameworks that many of us have a natural tendency to operate within when making decisions. As with any Heath brothers book, Decisive is littered with dozens of stories about how real individuals and organizations have made serious mistakes as a result of their subconscious constructs. As the book develops, pieces of the WRAP framework are introduced and examined within the context of stories of those who’ve averted disastrous decision-making just by changing their processes. There are dozens of statistics and figures as well that paint a vivid picture of the importance of evaluating the decision-making process. The risks of not changing processes should there be something necessitating change are also highlighted.

As Decisive states, the WRAP framework consists of four parts needed for better decision-making; Widening one’s options, Reality-testing assumptions, Attaining distance before deciding, and Preparing to be wrong. I found the chapters about each step to be very insightful.

The book described widening one’s options essentially as the process of re-framing the choices each of us has to include more options. I hadn’t considered this before, but Decisive mentioned that we have a tendency of making our choices really only have one option: whether or not to do something. For example, you and your friends are deciding what to eat on Friday night. You could say “Should we order a pizza or not?” Or you could widen your options by saying, “Should we order a pizza, go to the grocery store and pick up some things to cook dinner, or go out to a Chinese buffet?” That’s just a simple example, but I can assure you that the Heath brothers provide some much more interesting ones to think about.

Reality-testing assumptions essentially involves avoiding fallacies that we’re all familiar with but might not always be cognizant of. Devices like “playing the devil’s advocate” or briefly testing something before we fully commit are heavily discussed. As the Decisive mentions, we have a tendency to give ourselves more credit than credit is due before really investing in something. In order to prevent catastrophic failure, reality-testing assumptions can be instrumental in staving off these habits.

Attaining distance before deciding, as Decisive discusses, is essentially the age-old idea of taking your emotions out of decisions and sleeping on tough choices. Many of us are already familiar with this practice of improving our decision-making, but the Heath brothers share some excellent insights that help readers further internalize distancing practices and how their efficacy can be maximized.

Finally, the book closes out with a discussion of how it’s important to be prepared for failure in decision-making. So many books like Decisive have come out and painted a happy-go-lucky picture of decision making if you just follow a few steps. Decisive is realistic and honest; acknowledging the inherent imperfection of human decision-making. Despite this, the book manages to instill confidence in the success generated through sticking to processes and evaluating progress on a regular basis for red flags or tripwires.

Overall, I found Decisive to be a very compelling and relatively easy read about improved decision-making. The good news about this book is that even if you don’t learn anything new about decision-making, which I know you will, you’ll at least be entertained with a few real-life, and oftentimes inspirational, stories of better choice frameworks in action. With that being said, check out the new Heath brothers book for yourself!

Decisive will be released on March 26, 2013.

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