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Decisive Book Summary – Chip and Dan Heath

What you will learn from reading Decisive

– How to avoid the traps most people make when making a decision. 

– How to open up your mind to more possibilities when making a decision.

– Questions that will help you make better decisions.

Decisive Book Summary— A Guide to Making Better Decisions:

Decisive Book Summary distills the key ideas from Decisive, a fantastic book that aims to improve you decision making skills. Chip and Dan Heath clearly explain the ‘villains’ of decision making and offer practical remedies to improve your decisions immediately. 

If you’ve ever made a decision you regret or you’re looking to improve some of the decisions you make on a daily basis, read on.


Our Expectations rarely equal the reality:

“A remarkable aspect of your mental life is that you are rarely stumped,” said Daniel Kahneman

Question – Do we regret decisions because we imagine what it will be like and reality never matches what we think it will be like?

We can’t trust our gut, it is usually wrong. 

Example – Tattoo Removals:

Often our guts can’t make up their minds at all: an estimated 61,535 tattoos were reversed in the United States in 2009.

The Tattoo Removal Statistics as of 2017 – Tattoo removal clinics have grown by 400% in the past decade. 11% of all people with tattoos have them removed


How do you reduce chances of a poor decision?

Put simply, you have to explore alternative points of view, recognise uncertainty and search for evidence that contradicts your current beliefs. 


Identifying the 4 Villains of Decision Making:

  1. Narrowing of options
  2. Confirmation Bias
  3. Short term emotion
  4. Over Confidence


Narrowing of Options:

“Any time in life you’re tempted to think, ‘Should I do this OR that?’ instead, ask yourself, ‘Is there a way I can do this AND that?’ It’s surprisingly frequent that it’s feasible to do both things.”

This the first villain of decision making, narrow framing, which is the tendency to define our choices too narrowly, to see them in binary terms. 


Confirmation Bias:

Our normal habit in life is to develop a quick belief about a situation and then seek out information that bolsters our belief. And that problematic habit, called the “confirmation bias” is the second villain of decision making.

The damage of confirmation – (To see how this could lead to bad decisions, imagine your boss staring at two research studies headlined “Data That Supports What You Think” and “Data That Contradicts What You Think.” Guess which one gets cited at the staff meeting?) 

**** As a digital marketer I see this all the time, using data to support your usefulness (increase in traffic) vs data that actually may show overall performance (more sales through website)

Consumers who covet new cars or computers will look for reasons to justify the purchase but won’t be as diligent about finding reasons to postpone it. —— Never ask someone who’s just done something whether to do it, they will be rationalising.

At work and in life, we often pretend that we want truth when we’re really seeking reassurance. Said differently — Sometimes we think we’re gathering information when we’re actually fishing for support.

If you review the research literature on decisions, you’ll find that many decision-making models are basically glorified spreadsheets. 


The Villains as they are encountered:

  1. You encounter a choice. But narrow framing makes you miss options.
  2. You analyse your options. But the confirmation bias leads you to gather self-serving information.
  3. You make a choice. But short-term emotion will often tempt you to make the wrong one.
  4. Then you live with it. But you’ll often be overconfident about how the future will unfold.


How to train intuition:

To train intuition requires a predictable environment where you get lots of repetition and quick feedback on your choices.

Problem is quality feedback is hard to find, the words of people who have vested interests in still being your friend means that those close to you will have distorted perceptions.


The Power of Alternatives:

Most of us think of a “decision” as a situation where we must choose among two or more options. Our frontal lobe allows us to consider alternatives using counterfactual stimulation.

Nutt argues that when a manager pursues a single option, she spends most of her time asking: “How can I make this work? How can I get my colleagues behind me?” Meanwhile, other vital questions get neglected: Is there a better way? What else could we do?”

When we have too much information, it becomes tough to tease out what was important. Ask yourself – what is essential to me in this moment?

Studies suggest that being exposed to even a weak hint of another alternative it alters decision making. For example you could buy something else with this money if you want? Is sufficient to improve our purchasing decisions.

Focusing is great for analysing alternatives but terrible for spotting them. Think about the visual analogy—when we focus we sacrifice peripheral vision.


What if we started every decision by asking some simple questions: 

  1. What are we giving up by making this choice? 
  2. What else could we do with the same time and money?

If you cannot choose any of the current options you’re considering. What else could you do?


A benefit of having multiple ideas – Less ego:

“If I have only one design, then my ego is perfectly conflated with my design. But if I have multiple designs, I can separate the two.”

If you’ve only identified one good candidate for a job, for instance, you’ll have the strong urge to talk yourself into hiring her, which is a recipe for the confirmation bias.

To get the benefits of multi-tracking, we need to produce options that are meaningfully distinct.

Generating distinct options is even more difficult when our minds settle into certain well-worn grooves.


Sam Walton – Walmart Founder – Always looked for better ideas:

Throughout Walton’s career, he kept his eyes out for good ideas. He once said that “most everything I’ve done I’ve copied from someone else.”

Sam Walton made a habit of sniffing around his competitors’ stores, looking for ideas that were better than his.

Remember – When all retailers adopt centralised checkout as a “best practice,” it’s no longer a competitive advantage for anyone.

When best practice is identified the gains accrued are lost.


When People Frame things as this or that they loose vital options:

Examples – Not happy with your job so you either leave or stay, or you are either going to stay with your partner or leave.

Incredibly in these situations you weren’t considering the obvious third option: to try to change their situation! Couldn’t you talk to your boss about a different set of duties? Couldn’t you talk to your partner about ways to improve your relationship?


The Role of a Devils advocate:

The most important lesson to learn about devil’s advocacy isn’t the need for a formal contrarian position; it’s the need to interpret criticism as a noble function.

“What would have to be true?”

But if someone asks you to figure out what would have to be true for that approach to work, your frame of thinking changes….


Ask penetrating questions:

The researchers explain that probing questions signal confidence and experience in the asker. The seller knows she isn’t likely to pull one over on you.

THIS PRACTICE OF ASKING probing questions is useful when you are trying to pry information from people who have an incentive to spin you: salesmen, recruiters, employees with agendas, and so on.

Examples: How does that work? What exactly am I getting? What makes you say that?


Doctors trained to think diagnostically:

Dr. Barbour argues that doctors are trained to be expert disease detectors, taught to diagnose patients based on fragments of information: a fever, an odd pain, a spell of disorientation. But this disease hunt can backfire, tempting them to lock on to a possible diagnosis prematurely.

“What’s the most likely way I could fail to get the right information in this situation?”


Open up to feedback and criticism is a signal:

Beyond the mistake itself, the willingness to test your assumptions has its own value. It signals to your colleagues that your work will be conducted based on evidence, not folklore or politics.


Use Base-rates to calm the gut:

Base rates are good at establishing norms: Here are the outcomes we can expect if we make this decision. Close-ups, though, create intuition, which can be just as important.

Seeing things only as numbers means you won’t find nuances that weren’t visible in the numbers. Remember aggregates are averages and miss nuance of individuals.

That diva-ish, “I just know in my gut” attitude is inside all of us. We won’t want to bother with ooching, because we think we know how things will unfold.


Frame of discovery with client:

Discover reality rather than predicting it. By making decisions through experimentation, the best idea can prove itself.

How will we feel about it 10 minutes from now? 

How about 10 months from now? 

How about 10 years from now?


Take Your Own Advice:

The researchers have found, in essence, that our advice to others tends to hinge on the single most important factor, while our own thinking flits among many variables.

What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?


The Paradox of Autonomy in Management:

This is one of the classic tensions of management: You want to encourage people to use their judgment, but you also need your team members’ judgments to be correct and consistent.


Consider ranges rather than exact answers:

What’s interesting is that people’s estimates grew much more accurate when they were asked to explicitly consider the high and low ends of the range.

Penstock’s strategy of bookending is atypical of investors. Many investors, he said, try to make a precise prediction of what a stock is “really worth.”

Even if we have a pretty good guess about the future, the research on overconfidence suggests that we’ll be wrong more often than we think. The future isn’t a point; it’s a range:

Prospective hindsight seems to spur more insights because it forces us to fill in the blanks between today and a certain future event


Vaccinate expectations: 

By exposing people to a “small dose of organisational reality” before they start work, you vaccinate them against shock and disappointment.


Using Labels to legitimise feelings:

Having a label for those feelings legitimises them and makes pilots less likely to dismiss them. 

The flash of recognition—Oh, this is a leemer— causes a quick shift from autopilot to manual control, from unconscious to conscious behavior.


People judge the effort placed into figuring out the decision:

An extensive body of research confirms that procedural justice is critical in explaining how people feel about a decision. It’s not just the outcome that matters; it’s the process. 

Another way of looking at that would be people want to feel effort went into hearing both sides before deciding on an outcome.