There are some quick and easy decision-making techniques you can use to help you make better decisions, faster.
Now, while each one may not work in every situation, having these in your tool-belt can help you with your decisions, whether you are deciding what to eat or making a multi-million-dollar business decision.
Some are questions to ask yourself, others are different ways to view the problem. It can help you uncover alternatives you may not have thought of before. It can help you know which decision to make between different choices.
Some solutions seem more geared toward problem-solving, but as every decision is based on some sort of problem (such as the problem of not knowing where to eat), it works together.
If you are looking at specific tools to use, such as decision trees, matrices, and the like, those will come in another article. This article is about simple techniques you can use to make better decisions.
What would someone with greater resources do?
One way to come up with possible solutions or other alternatives is to ask what someone with greater resources would do. If cost wasn’t an issue, time and resources were not an issue, how would that person handle it?
How this helps:
Asking this helps you generate ideas you may not have thought of before. If you know what someone might do with unlimited resources, you then can scale that idea back to what you could do with the resources you currently have. You may do something creative and do something similar.
It helps open the door to impossible thinking.
What advice would you give your best friend?
It’s amazing how we sometimes do the opposite of what we would tell others to do in a similar situation.
An example is when asking for a raise or someone on a date. You may debate in your mind whether you should, whether you shouldn’t, what might happen, how the other person might respond.
However, if someone asks you if they should do it, you may quickly respond, “Yes, go for it! The worse they can say is no.”
Whatever advice you would give your best friend is probably the advice you should follow.
What would you do if X wasn’t an obstacle?
Sometimes obstacles can limit our view on how to deal with a problem or decide on an issue. One way to expand the view is to ask what you would do if the obstacle wasn’t there.
While this doesn’t remove the obstacle for you, it can give you alternatives to pull from. If you have a project and time is the obstacle, what would you do if you had more time?
Now that you know what you would do if there was more time, how can you make that happen within the time limit you have? Is there something you can do to do certain parts of your solution faster? Can you delegate or outsource? Can you scale it down some?
If your project requires government approval, what would you do if it didn’t? What steps would you take? Take that and see how you can apply it with that obstacle in the way.
It may not solve every issue, but it can help you look at issues better.
Flip the problem or decision (consider the opposite)
Let’s say you want to get as many employees to come to an outing. Instead of just asking, “What would make them want to come”, ask “What would make them not want to come?”
Because if you figure out what would make them not want to come, you can see what you need to do to prevent those things from happening.
Flipping the problem or decision helps you see the situation differently.
You can also think about it as doing the opposite. If you were wanting to not get hired by someone, what would you do? Then make sure not to do those things.
Try to view the problem as AND vs. OR
It’s easy to get caught up in the frame of “should I get/do this or not” or “should I get/do this or that”. Doing that limits your options.
One way to overcome that is to switch from OR to AND. How can/could I do this AND that? What would I have to do to make that happen?
Widen your options
As said in the tip above, it’s easy to get caught in the trap of “this or that” or “one or the other”. When you do that, you can miss out on great alternatives.
Always ask, “What else”? What are other options?
While you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with choices, having one or two extra options can dramatically increase the success of your decision-making.
If “X” was no longer an option, what would I do?
One way to widen your options is to think about what you would do if your favored option(s) weren’t available.
If you couldn’t do “X”, what would you do then? Then compare it to your original options.
What would have to happen, what would have to be true, for this option to be true?
This can especially be useful in group decisions where there is disagreement. Instead of viewing options or choices as right or wrong, ask what would have to happen for each of those options to be the right option.
This then gives a set, of agreed-upon criteria for everyone to look at to decide which option to take.
What would your successors do?
Andy Grove and Gordon Moore at Intel had a decision – should they keep making memory (which was being outdone by the Japanese) or should they stop and focus on processors?
They had been doing memory for a long time. It was hard to stop. To many, it was part of who they were.
Then one day Grove asked the question, “What would our successors do?” Moore quickly answered, “Get out of the memory business”.
And so they did – and it was a good decision.
Sometimes the time or money we spent in or on something keeps us from wanting to quit. We can’t see past it. Asking what others would do in the situation, asking what decision those coming after us with no attachment would do, can help us make a clearer, better decision.
Practice Zero-Based Thinking
It’s easy to get caught in the sunk cost fallacy – you already spent X dollars on a project or vehicle – if you stopped now all that money would be wasted.
You already spent 2 years with this person – if you break up now, all that time is wasted.
So what happens? We keep wasting money and time on people and objects and projects.
Sometimes we keep going too because quitting would be admitting failure or that you made a mistake.
Instead, practice zero-based thinking. Ask yourself, if I was starting over now, knowing what I know now, would I spend money on X project? Would I start this relationship with this person over? Would I keep investing money in this vehicle?
If the answer is “no”, then stop doing it.
Look at the situation as if you were wrong
We, by nature, generally assume we are right. We don’t like being wrong. That can blind us sometimes.
Ask yourself, if I am wrong about the situation, about my assessment, about the way I see it, what would I do differently? What steps would I take?
You may not be wrong, but by assuming that you are, you can get different perspectives and options you may not have seen otherwise.
Ask yourself, “What do I not know?”
You may have heard the phrase “You don’t know what you don’t know”.
Our brain often works in WYSIATI mode – What you see is all there is.
Take time to find out what you don’t know. Talk to people. Do research. Do some thinking.
Finding what you “don’t know” can help you find missing holes and gaps in your information, help you see other options, and ultimately help you make a better decision.
Look for disagreement
If everyone is agreeing with you on your decision – you may want to take a pause. It could be a) it’s so great of a decision everyone sees it as awesome or b) others, for whatever reason, don’t want to tell you their opinions or the truth.
That’s how many bad business decisions are made. A bunch of yes-men or yes-women just agree with whatever the CEO or manager says, then share their disgust at the idea of the water cooler.
Sometimes the decision-maker, maybe you, don’t welcome alternative viewpoints and dissent. That leads to terrible decisions.
Disagreement leads to more information. It leads to better vetting. It leads to other alternatives and viewpoints.
Look for disagreement. If you are deciding by yourself, take both roles. Ask yourself how you would argue against your course of action.
Find sources online or other people who can disagree with you.
It may hurt that your favored choice may not turn out to be the best (though it may), but it ultimately leads to better decisions and better results.
View your decisions as levels of certainty, not right or wrong
Too often we view decisions as right or wrong – I’m right and if you disagree with me, you are wrong.
We don’t want information that disagrees with us because if it does, it makes us wrong. This makes for poor decision-making.
Instead, view your decisions as varying levels of certainty, not as being right or wrong. How certain are you that this is the right way? 80%? 90%? Are you willing to bet $1,000 that it is?
If not, then you may want to get more information before making that decision.
When you view it as different levels of certainty versus right or wrong, you welcome opposing information, because it helps you make a better decision. It’s not about being right or wrong, it’s about gaining the highest level of certainty you can make the best decision.
Find those who’ve made a similar decision
If you are looking to buy a house, find people who’ve bought a house before. Ask them what process and criteria they used.
If you are making a certain kind of business decision, find others who’ve made similar. They can give you pointers and mistakes to avoid.
Now, just because someone’s made a decision doesn’t mean they did a good job at it. Don’t just blindly follow. However, even if they did poorly, you can still learn from that as well.
Whittle down the choices
Too many choices can lead to overwhelm and to less satisfaction with the choice we made.
When making a choice, whittle down your options. If choosing where to go out to eat, don’t have a list of 10 places. Reduce it to just a couple or a few to choose from.
Even in business decisions, having too many options will hurt you. Find a way to reduce the number to something more manageable.
Ask what you don’t want
You’ve probably been there.
“What do you want to eat?”
“I don’t know. I’m good with whatever.”
“Well, how about pizza?”
“No, no! We just had that yesterday.”
“But you just said….”
To avoid similar conversations, don’t focus on what you want first. Focus on what you don’t want. We as humans often are better at pointing out what we don’t like or want than what we do.
Instead of asking, “What do you want to eat?” ask, “What do you NOT want to eat?”
Doing so can help whittle down your options and see more clearly what the other person may want.
Ask yourself, “What’s the cost of not deciding?”
Sometimes we get overwhelmed or are unsure of our options, so we don’t make a decision.
So what happens? Worse consequences than if we had just decided and made the wrong one. Or we end up dissatisfied with the result.
Sometimes we can spend so much time getting more information that the time we take costs us more severely than if we just made a decision.
Instead, ask, “What is the cost of not deciding?” You may be unsure, but if you don’t decide, what would the consequence be?
You may want more information, but what is the cost if you take the time to find more information? Does it outweigh the benefit of more information?
Use the 10/10/10 Method (or something similar) to put the decision in perspective
With the 10/10/10 method, you ask what the result of the decision would be in 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years.
If you want to ask someone on a date, at the moment it can seem like a huge decision. But if you ask, what would the result be if they say no in 10 minutes? 10 months? 10 years?
Let’s say they say “no”. In 10 minutes, you probably will be disappointed. In 10 months, you likely have completely forgotten about it and are dating someone else, better of course. And in 10 years, who was that person?
With that kind of perspective, it’s not that big of a deal.
Ask how your future self would view this decision
It can be easy to see the decision we are making from a short-term perspective. We can also get trapped in seeing the circumstances around us that we don’t see the big picture.
Ask yourself how your future self would view the decision. See yourself in 1 year or 5 years. What would your future self say about the situation and the results from the different options?
Think about where your life would be then. The house you are buying now would work great for you – now. But 5 years you if would want to have kids, would the housework then as well?
You can also think of this from a business perspective. Some decisions work to fix the short-term problem, but they create bigger problems long-term. How would your future you, 5 years from now, see the decision and the results from it?
Doing so can help you put the problem into perspective.
Reframe the question
Think of the problem you are solving for the decision you are making by viewing it differently.
For example, if the parking lot at work is getting full, there are a couple of ways to view the issue:
- You need more parking spaces for more people
- You need fewer people for the available spaces
Depending on the question you ask, “How do we get more spaces” or “How do we free up spaces” determines the solutions and options you find when trying to solve the problem and make a decision.
Take whatever issue you are facing and ask the question differently. See if you can come up with new options that way.
Bonus: Look at the extremes – and the most likely result
To help you deal with risk and uncertainty, ask yourself what the worst possible outcome would be. Then ask what the best would be. Then ask what the most probable outcome will be.
Doing so can help you prepare for the worst (and best). It also can help you keep the decision in perspective, as the results or often not as bad as we think they may be.
We covered 21 decision-making techniques (plus a bonus) that you can use right now to start making better decisions.
I hope that some of these will help you as you go through life and work to make better decisions with greater confidence.
Now let me know below in the comments: What technique stuck out to you? Do you have any techniques that I’m missing?