Duke - The Fuqua School of Business

Feature Story

CASE Senior Fellow Dan Heath Wants You to Make Better Decisions

Learn More about His New Book Decisive on Friday April 5th

April 05, 2013

Dan Heath and his brother are at it again. The pair has written two New York Times bestsellers, Switch and Made to Stick.  Recently, they released a new book called Decisive about the forces that go into making choices and how we can improve our ability to make decisions. Dan Health is a Senior Fellow at Fuqua's Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE.) His brother, Chip, is a professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Dan Heath will discuss the core findings from Decisive at an event hosted by CASE on Friday April 5th at 5:00 PM in Geneen Auditorium at Fuqua.  The event is free and open to the Duke community, but a registration is required. More information can be found here.

Heath answered some questions about the book and his findings in this Fuqua Q and A.

1. What made you want to take a hard look at how people make decisions?

People have been studying decisions for a very long time. But most of the emphasis, traditionally, has been on the problems with people's decision-making: the biases and irrationalities that we're all prone to. So our approach was to flip that and ask: What are the solutions here? We know people tend to fall into certain traps, so how can they avoid them? How can they make better decisions?

2. Your book discusses ways we are influenced in our decisions that we don't realize. How do biases and irrationalities sway our choices?

In the book we describe four key "villains" of decision-making-common traps and biases that psychologists have identified. One of them is called "narrow framing," meaning that we tend to get stuck in one way of thinking about a dilemma, or we ignore alternatives that are available to us. With a little effort, we can break out of a narrow frame and widen our options. For instance, one expert we interviewed had a great quote: "Any time in life you're tempted to think, 'Should I do this OR that?,' instead, ask yourself, 'Is there a way I can do this AND that?' It's surprisingly frequent that it's feasible to do both things."

3. You argue that being aware of the shortcomings of our decision making isn't enough to solve the problem.  What steps can we take to make better choices? 

Chip and I had a bias against complex decision models or elaborate decision trees, because we didn't believe people would really use them. So our bias was for tools that were simple and practical. Think about the folk wisdom that when we have a tough decision, we should "sleep on it." That's great advice-it helps to quiet short-term emotion that can disrupt our choices. But it still takes 8 hours, and it doesn't always resolve our dilemmas. Many other decision aids require only a simple shift in attention.  Doctors leaning toward a diagnosis are taught to check themselves by asking, "What else could this be?" And colleagues making a difficult group decision can ask, "What would convince us, six months down the road, to change our minds about this?"

4. Some people have a hard time making a decision. What advice do you have for them?

Let me leave you in suspense on this one. At the event on Friday, I'm going to talk specifically about this question: How do you break out of a cycle of agonizing about a decision? The answer has to do with surfacing the right kinds of emotion. See you Friday for the full scoop!

Dan Heath's book event is part of the official launch of the Social Entrepreneurship Accelerator at Duke (SEAD), the new USAID funded program. The inaugural Duke Symposium on 'Scaling Innovations in Global Health' will take place on April 5th, from 1:00 - 5:00 PM at the Fuqua School of Business.  The full agenda and RSVP information are available here.