Decisive by Chip & Dan Heath

Decisive by Chip & Dan Heath

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. It emphasizes thinking about how you go about making good decisions and how you can systematically build processes in your life to correct for areas where you’re likely to make a bad decision. It’s practical, tactical, and instantly applicable.

Three key, easy to apply ideas from the book were the pre-mortem, bookending, and ooching.

  1. The Pre-Mortem

    A pre-mortem is almost scarily simple: you gather the project stakeholers in a room, and talking about the project, “We are a year from now, and this project has gone horribly wrong. How did we get here?” The Heaths talk about how this taps into a different side of your creativity and ability to see what could go wrong. Rather than asking forward-looking questions like “What could go wrong?” having people work backwards from an end forces them to work through options and alternatives.Having team members share their stories and thoughts aloud can spark discussions around probabilities of events going wrong and unearth items that need to be addressed.Especially if you’re working with a team that’s comfortable with each other, reading the stories can be a fun time of laughter (undoubtedly some stories get crazy), and it’s a great bonding exercise. As a project manager, it can be illuminating for areas and times in the project to be on the lookout for either scope creep or timeline creep, and to plan accordingly.

  2. Bookending

    Bookending is the process of assigning upper and lower bounds to an event that has not happened to understand the best way to approach said event. One example the Heath brothers use is in stock forecasting – looking at what the likely top end of a company’s value is, and considering what the low end is (even if things go wrong), and then using that information to make buy and sell decisions. So as the stock price edges towards the low end of the bookends, buy! (But first, perhaps reassess whether your low bookend was overly optimistic.)This process can be applied through life and can help you know when it’s time to make a decision. I like using this with probability ranges. If there’s something I’d like to happen, I look at what I think the probability of the event happening is, then look at (realistically) the high end and the low end. As other events occur that make what I’d like to do more or less likely, I change my decisions to reflect it.

  3. Ooching

    First and foremost, I would really like this word to become part of the general lexicon. It’s a fun word to say (and to watch people’s faces when you do say)! The Heaths identify “ooching” as a systematized process of looking before you leap.Basically, if you have a product to launch, a life change to make, or any other “giant” decision, work to identify a way to work your way towards it without committing everything you have. Then, once the initial “ooch” has finished, you can re-evaluate the probability of success of the original plan, areas of the plan that could be changed to increase the probability of success, or whether this is an area you need to not ooch any further into.One (perhaps controversial) idea for ooching is the idea of offering people contracts and projects before hiring (and even multiple people or vendors) to gauge work ethic, ideas, and general fit. For both parties, a simple assignment before committing long term can help both sides make the best decision.

Decisive is a quick read, with summaries at the end of each chapter to help you digest the information. For any professionals who make decisions with large consequences, it’s absolutely worth the time to read.


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