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Decisions: The fundamental things apply as time goes by

How to make choices at work or at home

In the classic film noir Casablanca the reluctant and ambiguous hero Rick (Humphrey Bogart) is faced with many decisions. Did he have a decision making process or did he make all his decisions based on his gut feelings? The film is set at the beginning on the Second World War. People wishing to travel beyond Europe to the Americas to find freedom found themselves in Casablanca in French Morocco, the transit point. Those with money, influence or good fortune to gain the exit visas were able to escape to their new world from here.

We live in a technological world but as the song from the film goes “the fundamental things apply as time goes by”. We are faced with many decisions both in our professional and our personal lives. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to do and how to make the decision that can shape our future. We can always do nothing and simply see what happens or we can decide to take action and follow our own path. Sometimes a simple pros and cons list can be useful but this does not take in to account the emotions that are often interwoven aspects of our decisions making processes. If we look at the type of decisions facing people and the end results of the decision making process, we find that generally human kind does not have a particularly striking track record.

When we make a decision we make a choice or a judgement about something. Choices about life chances like careers that might have been deserted, mourned or lost. At many universities in the UK a dropout rate of about 30% is now common. A fifth of teacher training students drop out after six months of training and never make it to the class room.

In business the decision making situation is often blemished with bad decisions being made as regularly as good decisions.

 In our personal lives things are not much better. How many of us save for our retirement, embark on relationships that are simply not good for us, fail to look after ourselves by not exercising or choosing the wrong type of foods to make us healthy and energised. There are many reasons why we do not make decisions perhaps an element of procrastination and fear of making the wrong decision holds some of us back. Our heroine (Ingrid Bergman) makes a decision that gave us one of the greatest lines in film history “Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine”.

 How can we improve our decision making? According to Chip & Dan Heath in their book ‘Decisive’ there are four villains of decision making.

  • Narrow framing – a tendency to define our options too narrowly instead of “should I break up with my partner or not” they recommend “ What ways can I improve my relationship”
  • Confirming bias – Only seek out the information that confirms our beliefs.
  • Short term emotions – Being swayed by emotions that will fade
  • Over confidence – Having too much faith in our predictions

They also suggest the following their WRAP model for improving decision making processes. Here is an over view of the process.

  • Widen your options
  • Reality test your assumptions
  • Attain distance before deciding
  • Be prepared to be wrong

From my experience and my work with clients I have found the following questions to be useful when considering options or choices. You may find some of them helpful to you too.

  • Have you considered your values or those of your organisation?
  • Who do you need to involve in the decision making process?
  • Have you gathered all the facts and understand the causes?
  • How have you analysed the different options?
  • What is the worst that can happen?
  • Have you looked at the situation from a number of perspectives?
  • What is your deadline?
  • How are you going to communicate the decision?
  • Can you live with the outcome of the decision?

It’s also worth remembering that we make decisions all the time and that not all decisions are life changing. So whether it’s deciding what to have for your tea, a new business deal or who to give the exit papers to.  Sometimes it’s simply a gut reaction that wins the day.  So like Rick in the film hold you own counsel and believe in yourself, find a decision process that suits you and the context that you are making your decision in. Here’s looking at you, kid!

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