Book Review: Decisive

  |   Books Print Friendly and PDF

Chip and Dan Heath open their book, Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work describing a woman considering whether to fire her firm’s IT Director. They ask you to reflect on your mental activity as you read their description. Next, they tell you what you probably did. They nailed that part for me. Finally, they show you why what you did, and what most people do, may not lead result in good decisions.

Here’s a summary of the book’s subject in two quotes from the introduction.

“Kahneman says that we are quick to jump to conclusions because we give too much weight to the information that’s right in front of us, while failing to consider the information that’s just offstage. He called this tendency “what you see is all there is.” In keeping with Kahneman’s visual metaphor, we’ll refer to this tendency as a “spotlight” effect. (Think of the way a spotlight in a theater directs our attention; what’s inside the spotlight is crisply illuminated.)”


“And that, in essence, is the core difficulty of decision making: What’s in the spotlight will rarely be everything we need to make a good decision, but we won’t always remember to shift the light. Sometimes, in fact, we’ll forget there’s a spotlight at all, dwelling so long in the tiny circle of light that we forget there’s a broader landscape beyond it.”

Decisive describes how you can make better decisions by following a simple process. The Heaths share research that shows that process is more important than analysis when reaching effective decisions. In fact, a good process can lead to better analysis.

They describe what they call the four villains of decision-making. The villains are: narrow framing, confirmation bias, short-term emotion, and overconfidence. They share a four-step process you can use to lessen the effect of the four villains.

I like the simple process represented with a few letters. The military does the best job I know of in teaching people how to decide. One key to their method is to define a simple process for analyzing an issue. The Army uses an analysis tool called METT-TC. That stands for: Mission, Enemy, Troops available, Terrain, Time, and Civilian concerns. The simple process helps a decision maker consider all the important factors.

The Heaths’ tool is a little different. They use the acronym WRAP. Each letter of the acronym represents a way to deal with one villain of decision-making. W is for “Widen your options.” R stands for “Reality-test your assumptions.” A represents “Attain distance before deciding.” And P is “Prepare to be wrong.”

Each of those elements of their process gets several chapters’ worth of coverage. The authors illustrate their points with relevant, well-told business stories, some of which you probably haven’t heard before. The Heaths also introduce several tools you can use to make the process work better. I found tools I was already familiar with, such as pre-mortem. There were tools I knew about but which had slipped away from the front of my memory. An example is Suzy Welch’s 10/10/10. And there were tools I never heard about such as book-ending.

In A Nutshell

Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work is one of the best books I’ve read on decision-making. The Heaths created a simple process with an acronym to help you remember it. Then they present an array of tools to help you make the process work. If you want to improve your decision-making, or even if you think you don’t need to, this book is a must-read.

You can check out some of my highlights and notes from this book on my GoodReads page.


What’s the fastest way to learn the big ideas from a great business book? Book summaries. Check out summaries from The Business Source, where you can watch, read, or listen to the big ideas from a great book in under 20 minutes.

Join The Conversation

What People Are Saying

There are no comments yet, why not be the first to leave a comment?