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Decision Making: Removing the “Narrow Frame”

If you’ve read (or been reading) A Whole New You: Six Steps to Ignite Change for Your Best Life, you may recognize the names Chip and Dan Heath. I’ve referenced their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard in discussing the importance of engaging our emotional side in making change. We have to WANT to make the changes we look to make, and be emotionally  connected to them in order to make them really happen.

Yesterday (March 26th), the Heath brothers released their latest book – Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. As I’ve, discussed, indecision is crippling and prevents us from moving forward with our goals and the changes we want to make, and impacts our ability to find happiness. I’m thrilled the Heath Brothers have shared an excerpt of the book so you could get a glimpse of what’s inside. What I love about this excerpt is that it speaks to the fact that we so often fall into the trap of a black or white mentality. They encourage us to go beyond and see the gray:

Psychologists say that we tend to get caught in a narrow frame when we make decisions, often limiting ourselves to a “whether or not” choice: e.g., I’m debating whether or not I should buy this fancy pair of shoes. This is a trap: We focus so hard on the single option we’re considering that we blind ourselves to the other options that may be available.

Consider the corporation Quaker, for instance. In 1994, Quaker’s executives got excited about the promise of Snapple and acquired the company for a whopping $1.8 billion. Unfortunately, they had severely underestimated the difficulties of incorporating Snapple’s teas and juices into the company’s manufacturing and distribution systems. (Not to mention the questionable brand synergy between wholesome Quaker and quirky Snapple.) Three years later, they sold off Snapple in a hurry for $300 million.

They’d been caught in a narrow frame, considering “whether or not” to buy Snapple. What if they’d considered 2 other potential acquisitions at the same time? Or considered pouring $1.8 billion into their own R&D and marketing? Or buying 100 small regional brands for $18 million each? Chances are they could have avoided a history-making loss.

In Decisive, we lay out four basic ways to fight narrow framing: Here are the first two:

1. Consider opportunity cost. If you are considering an investment of time or money, ask yourself, “What is the next best way I could spend this time/money?” Make sure to consider other domains; if you’re considering an expensive set of speakers, don’t just consider a cheaper set of speakers. Ask yourself whether you might be happier spending the money on a weekend getaway, or whether you might be happier with a used set of speakers from Craigslist plus a fancy dinner with your partner. If you can’t come up with any other combination that seems enticing, you should feel more confident that you’re making the right investment.

2. Multitrack your options. As Steve Cole says in the first chapter, always try to think AND not OR. Can you avoid choosing among your options and try several at once? For instance, if you’re deciding whether to invest time in Spanish lessons or ballroom dancing classes, do both for a while until one of them “wins.” Or, rather than hire one employee out of three candidates, could you give all three a 2-week consulting project so that you can compare their work on a real-world assignment?

In the book ( we go deeper into both of these concepts and we also unpack two other ways to fight narrow framing, including the notion of a “Vanishing Options Test.” (We also tell a longer and more horrifying version of the Quaker/Snapple story.)

Indecision doesn’t have to debilitate your efforts to change. I have no doubt that the Heath Brothers’ Decisive will help you improve your decision making capabilities and look forward to enjoying my own copy!

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