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Decisive - Book summary

Do you often find yourself regretting or abandoning a decision that you’ve made—be it choosing the wrong career, making a poor business decision, or buying something you don’t need? In Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath explain why we make poor decisions, and how we can counter our own mental/emotional biases to make better choices. In this free Decisive summary, you’ll get a brief synopsis of the components above–our decision making processes, villains behind our bad decisions and how to overcome them.

Decisive: An Overview

The authors present 4 key steps in a typical decision-making process, the villain that causes bad decisions at each step, and how we can counter them using the WRAP process to make better choices. Here’s a quick overview: Decisive Book Summary_WRAP Summary

One of the key reasons behind bad decisions is the spotlight effect—we make decisions based on the information being spotlighted and our subjective interpretation of that information. In so doing, we miss out on information and options outside of the spotlight.

4 Villains of Bad Decisions

The Heath brothers explain 4 key pitfalls (or “villains”) at each key stage of our decision-making process:

Villain #1: Narrow Framing

When we face a choice, we tend to look at our options narrowly, and often in binary terms, e.g. “Should I buy a new house or not?” or “Should I quit or stay in my job?”. This limits the options that we consider.

Villain #2: Confirmation Bias

As we analyze our options, we tend to only look for data that confirms our beliefs, assumptions and predispositions, instead of truly seeking the best information.

Villain #3: Short-term Emotion

Despite our detailed data and analysis, when we actually make our choice, we tend to be influenced more by our short-term feelings.

Villain #4: Overconfidence

After making the decision, we tend to feel certain about how the future will turn out, when in reality we are merely guessing and have no way of accurately predicting the future.

Solution: The W.R.A.P. Process

To counter the biases above, use the 4 step W.R.A.P. process to overlay your decision-making process. In a nutshell, WRAP stands for: Widen your options, Reality-test your assumptions, Attain distance before deciding, and Prepare to be wrong. Each of the 4 solutions come with sub-strategies and tips to help you apply them.  You can get more details from our complete Decisive summary.

Widen Your Options

Decisive Book Summary_Widen Options

To overcome your tendency to adopt a narrow frame, there are 3 strategies you can use—avoid a narrow frame, multitrack, and find others who’ve solved your problem. In our complete Decisive summary, we break these down further to look at why and how to: catch “whether-or-not” questions, expand your options with alternative questions, consider your opportunity costs, explore multiple options simultaneously, find ‘bright spots” and create playlists for future problem-solving and decision-making.

Reality-Test Your Assumptions

Decisive Book Summary_Reality-test assumptions

To overcome confirmation bias and our overconfidence in our predictions, we must reality-test our assumptions. The authors explain 3 practical strategies to improve the process and quality of information collection and to test your options before committing to them. In the 13-page version of our summary, we’ll look at what it means to probe for specifics and disconfirming data, zoom out/in to get a realistic assessment and find solutions for your specific situation, and how to test your hypotheses.

Attain Distance Before DecidingDecisive Book Summary_Attain Distance

To make sure your choices are aligned with what you trulywant, you need to (a) manage the short-term feelings that cloud your judgement and (b) know and follow your priorities. In our complete book summary, we zoom in on the impact of our emotional impulses, and explain techniques (like the 10/10/10 principle and adopting a third-party perspective) to bring back objectivity into our assessments. We also look at why and how to refocus on your real priorities, so you don’t make impulsive choices that you’d regret.

Prepare To Be Wrong

Decisive Book Summary_Prepare to be wrong

We cannot accurately predict the future, but we can plan for surprises using 2 strategies by book-ending the future (so you explore a wider range of possibilities) and setting a tripwire (to review your decisions). In our complete Decisive summary, we explain both strategies in more detail, including specific tips to manage your lower bookend (desperate outcome) and upper bookend (dream outcome), as well as to set your tripwires (signals that will force you to make/reconsider a decision at the right time, much like your car’s low-fuel warning indicator).

Getting the Most from “Decisive”

The WRAP process provides a clear and consistent way to make better decisions. The Heath brothers bring these ideas to life using a range of real-life stories, vivid examples and case-studies. For a more detailed breakdown of the ideas and tips, and additional examples, do get our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, a 13-page text summary, and a 27-minute audio summary.

Decisive summary - book summary bundle

The book also includes “clinics” to help you apply the tips using various real-world challenges, and advice on overcoming 11 common roadblocks to the WRAP process. You can purchase the book here for the full details or visit heathbrothers.com for more details, including free resources.

To learn more about why we make poor decisions, do check our summaries for Thinking, Fast and Slow and Noise.

About the Authors of Decisive

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work is written by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

Chip Heath is a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, focusing on courses about business strategy and organizations. He has consulted with clients such as Google, Gap and The Nature Conservancy.

Dan Heath is a Senior Fellow at Duke University’s CASE center, which supports social entrepreneurs. He previously worked as a researcher and case writer for Harvard Business School. In 1997, Dan co-founded an innovative publishing company called Thinkwell, which continues to produce a radically reinvented line of college textbooks. Dan has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA from the Plan II Honors Program from the University of Texas at Austin.

Decisive Quotes

“Our decisions will never be perfect, but they can be better. Bolder. Wiser. The right process can steer us toward the right choice.”

“If you’re willing to invest some effort in a broader search, you’ll usually find that your options are more plentiful than you initially think.”

“Until we are forced to dig up a new option, we’re likely to stay fixated on the ones we already have.”

“When life offers us a ‘this or that’ choice, we should have the gall to ask whether the right answer might be ‘both’.”

“We can’t control the future, but with some forethought, we can shape it.”

“Being decisive is itself a choice.”

“People rarely establish their priorities until they’re forced to.”

“Reality-Testing Our Assumptions is difficult… That’s the whole point of the confirmation bias—deep down, we never really want to hear the negative information.”

“When we make guesses about the future, we shine our spotlights on information that’s close at hand, and then we draw conclusions from that information.”

Click here to download Decisive book summary and infographic

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