Decisive book club – part 1 of 5


We make decisions every day.  Not all them need to be done better but some of them, both personal and professional decisions could be improved upon.  Surely you have got caught in either making a decision that you later regretted or not sure the best decision was made by others.

Our last Product Anonymous catch up was a book club session on Dan and Chip Heath’s book Decisive, which helps guide you to better decision making by providing some tricks to avoid the key villains involved.  The great part about learning these tricks is that you will learn to make  better decisions as a product manager, which is a great feeling since you are making them everyday, and you will also become a better advisor to others.  We will cover each bias and counteract pair in a separate blog post.

So what are these wily villains that keep us from making kick ass decisions everyday:
  • narrow framing
  • confirmation bias
  • short term emotion
  • over confidence
Knowing the villains is not an instant fix for avoiding these common decision making traps but the counter points are easily remembered using the mnemonic WRAP:
  • W. Widen your options
  • R. Reality test your assumption
  • A. Attain distance before deciding 
  • P. Prepare to be wrong

None of the group on Thursday, apart from myself, had read the book, although Jen had skimmed it just before the session. As we went through the villains and the various ways you could counteract them, we nonetheless had a great discussion because as it turned out many at the gathering had used some of the tricks, without knowing that’s what they were called!  Since so many alternatives are offered in the book there was also some nice discovery of additional options to assist with future decision making process.

Stop asking “whether or not” questions was something that made so much sense to a group of product managers!  When so many people one encounters in your day to day work are often asking questions with this narrow framing bias, and we have to help them realise there are more options available and other choices to be made.  Having said that I think we all realised we sometimes shrink down our options too quickly for ourselves, due to the speed we are moving at.  That was a great call out the Heath brothers made in the book, that while it feels counter-productive and counter intuitive to to do this we limit ourselves when we reduce our options in order to expedite things.  Because putting more options on the table not only may allow you to find a a better alternative, the improved execution due to a much better considered option will speed things up at that later stage. Thus, (assumed) time lost at the beginning will be gained at that more complicated stage of delivery. There was also another great suggestion here to not frame your options to think only AND/OR but turn it around and have both, for once someone advising have your cake and eat it too.

To help others widen their view, a couple of good questions were suggested that can help this shift. Ask a group of people attempting to make a decision what evidence they would require to change their mind, or what would have to be true for them to come to an accord.  This can be a good way to co-ordinate a large group of people with different points of view and interests, to declare what they need to know to move forward.  Once you understand this, you can then collate that necessary information.  It is also a great suggestion for getting the group to work together to gather that data.  There is now more of a focus on the proof needed, than on ones agenda.  This tip I felt was useful from a product management perspective as we are often gathering many different stakeholders together to be on board for new initiatives.  Using this strategy can really help with buy-in, which is something we will talk more about in a future post.

So to sum up this villain of narrow framing and how list out some other ways to widen your options when faced with this villain, which we haven’t gone through here:

  • vanishing options test
  • opportunity cost (how many developers is that?)
  • simultaneous design or multi-tracking (but even by adding one thing you can you can widen your considerations and still avoid choice overload).  DON’T fake the options you add in.  They need to be real
  • balance a prevention mindset vs. promotion
  • find someone else who has solved your problem
  • a playlist of stimuli/questions to help widen the options as a regular approach
  • analogous (this came up in the IDEO stuff) – to get granular detail go local, to be conceptual go regional/national more broad
  • laddering up – these solutions require leaps of imagination, but you never know where inspiration/innovation will come from
  • STOP asking “whether or not” questions when framing the decision.  This will keep you in a narrow frame of mind thinking what about AND as well as the OR!!
  • consider the opposite option

Pick up a copy of the book here: Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by the Heath brothers.

The next blog post will cover the villain Confirmation bias and its counter move Reality test your assumptions.

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