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Book review: "Decisive" by the Heath brothers

Decisive Some time ago I read “Switch: How to Change Things when Change is Hard” by the Heath brothers (Chip and Dan) and reviewed it on this blog. My post started as follows: “Here is my one-sentence review: The book is so good I feel sorry the authors have to sell it at the same price as the other hardcovers out there. If that's enough to convince you to give it a try, great. Otherwise, read on.”

I wasn’t quite sure I’d like “Decisive” as much. I felt that the topic (how to make better decisions) was less original, the green cover of the book is simply hideous, and the introduction, which I’d read before the release date, just didn’t grab me. But the preview I got included Chapter 1, not just the introduction, which meant I got to read the story about the brown M&Ms that a rock star had set as a “tripwire” for his national tour (to figure out whether people had read the contract full of technical specs he’d made them sign, with severe safety implications for his crew) and “Switch” was truly very good. So I bought the book.

And enjoyed it immensely. Now, for me “Switch” was a six-stars-out-of-five sort of book, and “Decisive” doesn’t rise to that level, but I give it a solid five stars nonetheless. I still had that feeling of being sorry for the authors that they have to sell their books at the same price as the other hardcovers out there, especially the puffed-up magazine pieces that find their way into bookstores these days. Also, while the topic of making better decisions has received significant attention, the Heath brothers do manage to give fresh insights and make the reader re-think his or her approach to looming big decisions ahead. In other words: “Decisive” is a much-needed book, and it delivers.

The book is centered on a 4-step framework to avoid common unconscious biases in decision-making: the WRAP process. (They’re business experts. Of course they had to have an acronym for their method.) Below I provide the four parts of WRAP and keywords for some (but far from all) ideas that the Heath brothers give in their book:

  • Widen your options
    • Think AND not OR
    • Run the “vanishing options test” (if the options you’ve thought about so far weren’t available/allowed, what would you do?)
    • Toggle between the promotion and prevention mindsets (if you had suddenly more time/money, how would you spend it? what if there was a severe cutback?)
    • Find someone who has solved your problem
  • Reality-test your assumptions
    • Ask disconfirming questions
    • Consider the opposite
    • Zoom out: respect the base rates (for instance in a medical situation: what are the averages?)
    • Zoom in: take a close up (for instance, the reviews on a website like Yelp might be summarized into a lackluster average, but if you analyze them more carefully, you may realize people either love or hate the restaurant for specific reasons that may not be relevant to you)
    • “Ooch” into it (as in: lean into it, although the authors caution against “emotional tiptoeing”, which is used to delay commitments)
  • Attain distance before deciding
    • Try 10/10/10 (how will you feel about it in 10 minutes? 10 days? 10 months?)
    • Fight the “status quo bias”
    • Shift perspectives to gain distance (imagine it’s not you but your best friend who has to take the decision – what would you tell your best friend to do? And at work, imagine you’ve been replaced and ask the “Andy Grove question”: what would your successor do?)
    • Identify your core priorities to resolve dilemmas (what would an outside investigator conclude about your priorities by reading your calendar?)
  • Prepare to be wrong.
    • Create a “realistic job preview” (what are problems people in this situation often encounter?)
    • Set a tripwire (for instance a deadline by which something must have happened, or you’re switching to Plan B)
    • Run a premortem and preparade (you’ll have to read the book to understand what that means)
    • And more!

If you’re still on the fence regarding the book, you can download free resources to make better decisions by signing up on the Heath Brothers’ website. I can attest that they email their list very rarely, and only with relevant information, so readers definitely get the best of that bargain, given the great resources – podcasts and summary sheets – available for download upon registration. (It’s because I had signed up after I read “Switch” that I got a sneak peek into “Decisive”.) SSIR - Stanford Social Innovation Review - also has an excerpt of the book here.

In summary: “Decisive” is not quite as earth-shattering as “Switch,” less profound research, but far better than 99% of the business books out there.

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