Happy New Year!

As I wrote in CL #20, this time last year, I am not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions.  I know there are studies that show the percentages of people who give up on their resolutions by mid-February.  I should probably go track down a couple for maximum intellectual integrity, but I just can’t be bothered.  I know from my own experience that the gym is always busiest the first few weeks of the new year, which means that sometimes I have to wait to get on a treadmill, which means that sometimes I secretly wish that they would hurry up and get over it already.  But that would be really unkind, immature, uncharitable, and extremely selfish, so I wouldn’t ever say it out loud.

There are some kinds of goals I can get behind, and those are ones that involve learning to do something better.  And this year, I resolve to learn to make better decisions—I’m still playing with the wording, as you’ll notice that the current phrasing doesn’t actually commit me to act on them.  As an intermediate step, I have challenged myself to come up with a list of questions to help me make better decisions.

I’ve gotten really into this topic ever since I listened to Annie Duke’s Thinking in Bets (here is a link to an Annie Duke interview that I haven’t included before, and for more Annie Duke see the links at the bottom of this Letter). And it seems like everyone’s talking about decision-making lately—the latest offering from the Big Idea Club includes a book on decision-making, so I’ve been reading that: Farsighted, by Steven Johnson.

I’m always interested how reading a book about a topic I already know quite a lot about helps me make connections that I hadn’t made before, or fills in some details that I didn’t know, or highlights something important from another book that I’ve read but didn’t remember.  This time I had the weird experience of searching Paul Nutt and finding my own work… Nutt’s point is that there are always more options than you think there are—dramatically more.  In the Heath brothers’ review of Nutt’s work in Decisive, they synthesize the implications of Nutt’s research thus: “Most organizations seem to be using the same decision process as a hormone-crazed teenager.”  That’s a great line, isn’t it?

And your mind plays a bit of a trick on you, because it tends to offer up to you solutions that make sense, are easy to grasp, and fit with your worldview (what Daniel Kahneman calls System I thinking; it’s also connected to the notion of a narrow frame).  It further seduces you by tying annoying problem to attractive solution in ways that you don’t even notice, because your worldview is further reinforced: the problem is that we don’t have the resources; the problem is that she can’t be trusted; the problem is that the parents aren’t invested enough; the problem is that I just don’t have the time…

My experience as a coach is that sometimes I have to ask the same question several times in order to have my client be able to articulate a cogent problem statement—and, most interestingly, the process of coming up with that statement frequently leads a person to think about the problem differently.

So, I pull from all of this the first two questions for my list—although I understand that they may not end up at the top of the list.  And incidentally, these are great coaching questions!  They are:

  • What would you do if your first/preferred solution isn’t available to you? (Yes, I know that this is also on the Heath Brothers’ list—they really get under my skin.)
  • How confident are you that you fully understand the problem? (Plus follow up questions, like: can you restate it for me simply? And: how do you know?)

And if you want to follow some of these ideas to other places, here are some to try:

Daniel Kahneman’s Talk at Google (ultra-nerdy)

Daniel Gilbert’s TED Talk on making bad decisions

Profile of Annie Duke in the New Yorker

Annie Duke’s Talk at Google

Annie Duke’s Newsletter

Liv Boeree’s TED Talk (another poker player’s take on decision-making)

All the very best for the New Year.  Please let me know if there is anything else I can do for you.  Yours, Isobel

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