Inside Out

Notes on seeking wisdom and crafting software

Decisive (Chip & Dan Heath, 2013)

Table of contents

These are my notes from the book Decisive by Chip & Dan Heath. It was an insightful and actionable read. The authors structured the narrative pretty well for a non-fiction (also possibly dense topic 😄).


  • Challenge: spotlight effect. Too much attention to what we’re seeing and we miss everything offstage.
  • Four villains of decision-making
    • Narrow framing - define and see choices in narrow binary terms
    • Confirmation bias - develop a quick belief and then seek data to prove the belief
    • Short-term emotion - our feelings churn when we have a difficult decision to make
    • Overconfidence - too much confidence on own predictions
  • How they play together? How do we fix them? WRAP method
    • Choices are limited by narrow framing ➡️ Widen your options
    • Analysis of the options are flawed by confirmation bias ➡️ Reality-test assumptions
    • Make a choice but short-term emotion forces to make the wrong one ➡️ Attain distance before deciding
    • Start living with it but plagued by overconfidence and incorrect estimation of the future ➡️ Prepare to be wrong

Widen your options help avoid a narrow frame

  • Whether or not decisions fail most of the time since pursue different mindset (how can I make this work?) instead of “is there a better way?“.
  • Consider opportunity cost.
  • Run Vanishing Options test: if your favorite option were no longer available, what would you choose?
  • Multitrack: consider alternatives simultaneously (“this or that” ➡️ “why not both?”). Allows a fallback plan, and learn the landscape of what’s possible. Disagreement implies real options are there.
  • ”Who else is struggling with similar problems, what can I learn from them?” Make this search outcome a playlist that can be repeated for similar decisions. Use analogies.

Now that we have many options, how do we assess the options?

Reality-test your assumptions is the antidote for confirmation bias

  • Excessive pride or self-confidence results in poor decision. Anti-dote: seek out disagreement
    • What if our least favorite option were actually the best one? What data might convince us of that?
    • Ask probing questions when expertise is not proven and people have agendas. E.g., getting info from a salesperson.
    • Ask open-ended questions when expertise is proven. E.g., speaking to doctor.
    • Consider the opposite. E.g., assume positive intent for seemingly objectionable actions.
    • ”Mistake of the year” program to encourage deliberate mistakes and failures.
  • Go talk to an expert and then zoom in to the reality
    • Outside views (e.g., product reviews) are devoid of your special context. More accurate than inside views.
    • Experts are bad at predictions, but are great at assessing base rates.
    • Base rates help set what you can expect from a decision.
    • Inside views or close-ups will provide our truth (japanese: genba, factory floor) via intuition.
  • Ooch - create small experiments to test hypothesis. Prototype to validate
    • Experimentation lets the best option prove itself.
    • Ooch when the situation needs more information; do not prototype when commitment is required.

Sleep on it, they advise. But sleep isn’t enough, we need strategy. How to deal with tough decisions?

Attain distance before deciding overcomes short-term emotions

  • Use 10/10/10 to overcome short-term emotion
    • If I decide option A, how do I feel about it in 10 minutes, 10 months and 10 years from now?
    • Guardrail: do first, apologize later.
    • Familiarity develops a preference. Bias: loss aversion to decide against preferred thing. Anti-dote: get some distance.
    • What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?
  • How to ensure emotions reflect your core priorities?
    • Core priorities are the passions, values and beliefs underneath.
    • Spend time on core priorities ➡️ less time on other distractions. Monitor with an hourly timer to answer - Am I doing what I most need to be doing right now?

Are we too much confident in the final choice?

Prepare to be wrong makes you future-proof

  • Bookend the future for the worst and best scenarios
    • Why? We’ll likely be wrong in our guess about future. Future is not a point but a range.
    • FMEA (failure mode effect analysis) asks what are the possible paths to failure.
    • Premortem assumes a bleak future and root causes why that can happen.
    • Preparade asks to consider future success and be ready for it.
    • Safety factor: assume yourself to be overconfident and give a margin of error.
  • Set a tripwire to examine and decide when to change direction
    • Tripwire is a signal to reconsider current path. Examine and be aware. For example, set a deadline.
    • Partitioning is another tripwire. Partitions are additional actions that act as an entry-bar. E.g., each VC round asks a different set of questions, makes us intentional about the behavior.
    • Tripwires help remind that you’ve a choice to change path.

On the decision-making process

The process need not take a long time to be effective. Even if you’ve only got 45 minutes to consider an important decision, you can accomplish a lot: Run the Vanishing Options Test to see if you might be overlooking a great alternative. Call someone who’s solved your problem before. Ask yourself, What would I tell my best friend to do? (Or, if you’re at work, What would my successor do?) Gather three friends or colleagues and run a premortem.

Being decisive is itself a choice. Decisiveness is a way of behaving, not an inherited trait. It allows us to make brave and confident choices, not because we know we’ll be right but because it’s better to try and fail than to delay and regret.

Our decisions will never be perfect, but they can be better. Bolder. Wiser. The right process can steer us toward the right choice.
And the right choice, at the right moment, can make all the difference.


Thanks for reading!