Annie Duke on How to Decide, Part 9

In her book, How to Decide: Simple Tools for Making Better Choices, Annie Duke discusses how to train our brains to combat our own bias and help ourselves make more confident and better decisions.

These are some of my favorite concepts and takeaways from reading the book.

Chapter 8, “The Power of Negative Thinking”

In this chapter, Annie Duke discusses how we can improve our decision-making skills by applying various techniques such as premortem, backcasting, precommitment contracts, and category decisions. She offers the following recommendations:

  • Think Positive, but Plan Negative:
    • When it comes to reaching our goals, most of us have an execution problem. For the most part, we know what we should do to reach a goal, but our decisions often lead us to a different outcome.
    • The gap between what we know we should do to achieve our goals and our decisions is called a behavior gap. Decision tools available can help us narrow the gap, and Negative Thinking is one of the most effective tools.
    • One tool of Negative Thinking is mental contrasting. When we conduct mental contrasting, we try to imagine what we want to accomplish and confront the obstacles that might stand in the way of reaching the goal.
  • Premortems and Backcasting:
    • Premortem is to imagine ourselves, at some time in the future, having failed to achieve a goal and look back at how we arrived at that outcome. There are four general steps to perform a premortem.
    • Step 1: Identify the goal or a specific decision we are considering.
    • Step 2: Figure out a reasonable time frame for achieving the goal or the decision.
    • Step 3: Imagine we are on the day after the decision period, and we did not achieve the goal as expected. List up to five reasons why we failed due to our actions or decisions.
    • Step 4: List up to five reasons why we failed due to things outside of our control.
    • Backcasting is the flip side of premortem. We perform backcasting in advance to imagine what our journey would be like had we succeeded. We list up to five reasons that are within and outside of our control.
    • We combine the four sets of reason from premortem and backcasting to form a Decision Exploration Table. We use the Decision Exploration Table to gain as much visibility as we can and take the following steps:
    • Step 1: Modify our decision to increase our odds of the good things happening and vice versa.
    • Step 2: Plan how we will react to the potential future outcomes to minimize surprises.
    • Step 3: We look for ways to mitigate the impact of bad outcomes should they occur.