Chapter 1 Making Smart Choices
Our decisions shape our lives. Made consciously or unconsciously, with good or bad consequences, they represent the fundamental tool we use in facing the opportunities, the challenges, and the uncertainties of life.
• Should I go to college? If so, where? To study what?
• What career should I pursue? What job should I take?
• Should I get married now, or wait? Should I have children? If so, when and how many?
• Where should I live? Should I trade up to a larger house? What can I contribute to my community?
• Which job candidate should I hire? What marketing strategies should I recommend for my company?
• Since I feel unfulfilled, should I change jobs? Go back to school? Move?
• How should I invest my savings? When should I retire? To do what? Where?
Such questions mark the progress of our lives and our careers, and the way we answer them determines, to a large extent, our place in society and in the world. Our success in all the roles we play--student, worker, boss, citizen, spouse, parent, individual--turns on the decisions we make.Making Decisions is a Fundamental Life Skill
Some Decisions will be fairly obvious--"no-brainers." Your bank account is low, but you have a two-week vacation coming up and you want to get away to someplace warm to relax with your family. Will you accept your in-laws' offer of free use of their Florida beachfront condo? Sure. You like your employer and feel ready to move forward in your careers. Will you step in for your boss for three weeks while she attends a professional development course? Of course.
But the no-brainers are the exceptions. Most of the important decisions you'll face in life are tough and complex, with no easy or obvious solutions. And they probably won't affect you alone. They'll affect your family, your friends, your coworkers and many others known and unknown. Making good decisions is thus one of the most important determinants of how well you meet your responsibilities and achieve your personal and professional goals. In short, the ability to make smart choices is a fundamental life skill.
Most of us, however, dread making hard decisions. By definition, tough choices have high stakes and serious consequences; they involve numerous and complex considerations; and they expose us to the judgments of others. The need to make a difficult decision puts us at risk of anxiety, confusion, doubt, error, regret, embarrassment, loss. No wonder we find it har to settle down and choose. In living through a major decision, we suffer periods of alternating self-doubt and overconfidence, of procrastination, of wheel-spinning and flip-flopping, of frustration, even of desperation. Our discomfort often leads us to make decisions too quickly, or too slowly, or too arbitrarily. We flip a coin, toss a dart, let someone else--or time--decide. The result: a mediocre choice, dependent on luck for success. It's only afterwards that we realize we could have made a smarter choice. And by then it's too late. You Can Learn to Make Better Decisions
Why do we have such trouble? It's simple: we don't know how to make decisions well
. Despite the importance of decision making to our lives, few of us ever receive any training in it. So we are left to learn from experience. But experience is a costly, inefficient teacher that teaches us bad habits along with good ones. Because decision situations vary so markedly, the experience of making one important decision often seems of little use when facing the next. How is deciding what job to take or what house to buy similar to deciding what school to send your children to, what medical treatment to pursue for a serious illness, or what balance to strike among cost, aesthetics, and function in planning a new office park?
The connection among the decisions you make lies not in what
you're deciding, but in how
you decide. The only way to really raise your odds of making a good decision is to learn to use a good decision-making process--one that gets you to the best solution with a minimal loss of time, energy, money, and composure.
An effective decision-making process fulfills these six criteria:
• It focuses on what's important.
• It is logical and consistent.
• It acknowledges both subjective and objective factors and blends analytical with intuitive thinking.
• It requires only as much information and analysis as is necessary to resolve a particular dilemma.
• It encourages and guides the gathering of relevant information and informed opinion.
• It is straightforward, reliable, easy to use, and flexible.
A decision-making approach that addresses these criteria can be practiced on decisions major and minor--what movie to see, what car to buy, what vacation to take, what investment to make, what department head to hire, what medical treatment to pursue. And the more you use such an approach, the more efficient and effective it will become. As you grow more skilled and your confidence grows, making decisions will become second nature to you. In fact, you may find your friends and associates asking you for help and advice with their tough choices!Use the PrOACT Approach to Make Smart Choices
This book provides you with a straightforward, proven approach for making decisions. It does not tell you what
to decide, but it does show you how
. Our approach meets the six criteria listed above. It helps you to see both the tangible and the intangible aspects of your decision situation more clearly and to translate all pertinent facts, feelings, opinions, beliefs, and advice into the best possible choice. Highly flexible, it is applicable to business and professional decisions, to personal decisions, to family decisions--any decision you need to make.
One thing the method won't do is make hard decisions easy. That's impossible. Hard decisions are hard because they're complex, and no one can make that complexity disappear. But you can manage complexity sensibly. How? Just like you'd climb up a mountain: one step at a time.
Our approach takes one step at a time. We have found that even the most complex decision can be analyzed and resolved by considering a set of eight elements. The first five--Problem, Objective, Alternatives, Consequences, Tradeoffs--constitute the core of our approach and are applicable to virtually any decision. The acronym for these--PrOACT--serves as a reminder that the best approach to decision situations is a proactive one. The worst thing you can do is wait until a decision is forced on you--or made for you.
The Eight Elements of Smart Choices
The three remaining elements--uncertainty, risk tolerance, and linked decisions--help clarify decisions in volatile or evolving environments. Some decisions won't involve these elements, but many of your most important decisions will.
The essence of the PrOACT approach is to divide and conquer. To resolve a complex decision situation, you break it into these elements and think systematically about each one, focusing on those that are key to your particular situation. Then you reassemble your thoughts and analysis into the smart choice. So, although our method may not make a hard decision easy, it will certainly make it easier.