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The D'Oh Effect, the Heath Brothers, and the Secrets to Good Decision-Making

July 12, 2013

 

 

Buyer's remorse is a terrible thing. It occurs when you have the realization that you've bought the wrong thing and now you can't return it. Both as a reality and a metaphor, it extends far beyond the notion of purchasing the latest gadget or gizmo.

 

In China, there are 5000 divorces a day. In 2011, this prompted the government-run post office to advertise that you could post a love letter to your new spouse that wouldn't be sent until seven years after your wedding. The thinking was that if couples stopped and thought about the seriousness of their undertaking, they might put more energy into the marriage. Clearly, this is the Chinese government's attempt to head buyer's remorse off at the pass.

 

Buyer's remorse is but one flaw with the brain's decision-making powers as denoted in Chip and Dan Heath's book, Decisive: How to make better choices in Life and Work. Like the title tells us, the Heath brothers' intention is to outline strategies to keep the inner Homer Simpson at bay.

 

The brothers Heath have come up with the mnemonic device WRAP for their decision-making prescription:

 

Widen your options

We often frame decisions as a binary choice. For example, should I spend $75 on a ticket for a John Mayer concert, or should I stay home and do nothing? As opposed to: Should I attend the John Mayer concert, or spend $75 on iTunes downloads of Mayer's music, or download his last concert video for $14, or download some of his songs from iTunes and/or send away for a John Mayer T shirt to help get my Mayer fix?  The point is, by widening our options, we can create a much richer environment for choice. Try framing questions with and/or to guarantee a greater possible outcomes.

 

Reality-test your assumptions

 

Many of us make decisions that, in retrospect, clearly had no chance of succeeding. But once we lock down on an idea, confirmation bias kicks in and we tend to seek information that supports our theory and ignore valid contrary information. To get around confirmation bias, ask questions like, "What would be necessary for this idea to work?"

 

Think about the next time your southern friend Kevin comes to you seeking financial support for his sure-fire new restaurant concept.  Kevin is exuberant about opening Kevin's Kentucky fried Carrots, and he points out that beyond capitalizing on the alliteration of the double K, he is also tapping into both Kentucky's proud frying history and the unquestioned  health benefits of carrots. Now you don't have to be a naysayer. Instead, you suggest that he can test the idea by getting a license for a vendor stand at the upcoming county fair. After all, the results might actually prove you were a fool to question his culinary genius.

 

Attain distance before deciding

 

Short-term emotion is powerful. In the heat of the moment, we sometimes make rash decisions that we would have avoided with the perspective of time. The Heath brothers suggest that in these instances, you invoke business writer Suzy Welch's 10/10/10 rule. Ask yourself how you will feel about your decision 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now and 10 years from now. This helps balance your short-term emotions with a longer time period perspective. It's essentially what the Chinese government was trying to do with the idea of the delayed love letter.

 

Prepare to be wrong

 

Hubris is the mortal enemy of good decision-making, and it can lead us into deeply faulty predictions about the future. The Heaths say that when you plan for a future event, don't think of it as a single point to aim for ( i.e., expecting a perfect moon shot), but rather as one of a host of possible outcomes. Preparing for what might go right as well as what might go wrong is a perspective trick they call bookending. By building in contingency planning, you can accommodate the unforeseen.  NASA's planned redundancy saved the lives of the Apollo 13 crew members when the mission went dangerously awry.

 

Many of us might think that we are bringing some level of analytical intention to our decisions when we follow Ben Franklin's advice and make a list of pros and cons to guide us.

 

That might make sense if our brains were more like Dr. Spock's, had our species evolved beyond primitive emotion and the host of biases that plague us. But until the emotions driving phenomena like buyer's remorse are eradicated from the human genome, the WRAP strategy might be worth a try.

 

Let's face it, we are more Captain Kirk than Spock. And truth be told, when it comes to decisions, we're an awful lot more like Bart Simpson's dear old dad.

 

D'oh....

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