I received so much interest in my decision-making tips from a previous article, I thought I’d share some more of my time-tested strategies with everyone. When it comes to making sense of complexity, I have some proven solutions, and it all starts with writing things down.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, or when everything feels new and weird, it’s a great time to sit down and get your thoughts out onto paper. You can use any format, such as speaking into your smart phone or typing on your computer to get out your ideas. Personally, I like the feel of writing on paper.
Throughout the years, when I have important decisions to make, or if I’m bombarded with information, I have found it invaluable to take 20 minutes to write down factors such as:
- What’s important to me or to the client, the team, etc.?
- What does success look like?
- What’s the best and the worst that can happen?
- What assumptions am I making?
- How can I test these assumptions or ideas?
- Who else can I talk to about this issue?
When writing, I like to use some tools to help me both focus and ensure I’m casting a wide enough net to formulate ideas.
I always start with The Idea Filter™. This really helps me understand my goal(s), which isn’t always clear at the start.
If I’m going into negotiations, I do The Prepared to Win-Win™ worksheet, which helps me do a thorough assessment of my interests and that of the other party’s. This helps me identify strong alternatives and generate novel proposals.
Back up your assumptions with concrete data. Right now may not be the time to trust your gut because you may be overwhelmed or burned-out. If you are selling an asset, our Due Diligence 360° Assessment™ identifies the data you want to collect and analyze.
Two researchers conducted a set of studies* testing the idea that writing helps people make difficult decisions more confidently. Winston Sieck, a cognitive psychologist, and Frank Yates, University of Michigan Professor of Marketing & Professor of Psychology, gave study participants tricky situations and instructed some of the participants to write about the decision they were going to make, while the others were not told to write beforehand.
The researchers found that the writers were reliably less biased in their decision making than the control groups. They also had a more comprehensive assessment of the problem and were less likely to be swayed by subtle influences. The writers were more confident they had made the best choice than the non-writers.
In short: When in doubt, write it out.
*Full study: Sieck, W., & Yates, J. (1997). Exposition Effects on Decision Making: Choice and Confidence in Choice Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 70 (3), 207-219 DOI: 10.1006/obhd.1997.2706. Sieck serves as president and principal scientist of Global Cognition, a cognitive research and instructional development organization. Yates is on the faculty at the University of Michigan.