Near the end of The Decision Book the authors drop this little bomb on the reader:
We are increasingly surrounded by ‘black boxes’, complex constructs that we do not understand even if they are explained to us. We cannot comprehend the inner processes of a black box, but none the less we integrate their inputs and outputs into our decision-making.
The amount that we simply have to believe, without understanding it, is increasing all the time. As a result, we are tending to assign more importance to those who can explain something than to their actual explanation.
In the future it will be the norm to convince people with images and emotions rather than with arguments.
Now, setting aside how terrifyingly accurate this 2012 observation about the future (and by “future” we mean, you know, “now”) was (which – okay, that’s a lot to set aside, but for the purposes of this review, please do so), it’s a really lovely summary of why a book like this is not merely useful, but sort of necessary.
For who among us does not feel exactly as the authors describe? Deluged, not only by all the decisions we have to make, but by all the information we are presented with that we have to make sense of? Relying on, not just one black box, but invariably a whole system of black boxes, that increasingly run everything we touch and which we have no insight into? Thus a book that helped us navigate those minefields, that made us feel we weren’t just winging it, would, as we said, not only be useful, but frankly exactly what the times demand.
Now, to be clear, if you are expecting a book that tells you how to make decisions, you will be disappointed. Instead, The Decision Book is a sort of encyclopedia of models for making decisions which you can apply to your own life or work or whatever. And although, as the authors remind you, “models do not represent reality but are simply an approximation of reality”, this still, as we point out above, has great value. Because in a sense models are ways of organizing data, with the expectation that connections will be revealed by these new arrangements that were previously hidden. That’s because not only do they arrange the data differently, but because different models – and Krogerus and Tschäppeler give you fifty – often ask for different data, and even different kinds of data, which will be juxtaposed next to each other differently to reveal – well, hopefully something that helps you see a decision that you couldn’t see before. So the sheer volume of decision models they provide is part of the book’s strength – “Try this approach. Doesn’t help? Okay, well then try this one. Still nothing? Okay, how about this one?” And so on and so forth, until you either find a model that works for you, or come to a decision on your own, or give up altogether and see if UPS is hiring.
Unfortunately that valuable structure of The Decision Book is exactly its challenge as well; the book is extremely abstract. Page after page of models, processes, structures. You have to think about how you would use the models, and that makes them somewhat untethered from reality and therefore both a bit confusing to understand and hard to recall. Of course, the authors try to minimize this with ‘problem examples’ which help a little, but only a little. Thus without concrete, real world executions, it is easy for the reader to become dizzied by all the graphs, plot points, and architectures.
But let us be clear – we do not dismiss the book. We just concede it’s hard to process. In fact, as absurd as it may sound, perhaps the best way to use this book is to sort of ingest it whole, to let it take up permanent residence in your brainpan, and then, when an appropriate problem does come along, hopefully the right decision model will pop into your consciousness. And if it doesn’t, well at least you’ll know where to start looking for one that will.
That said, there are some extremely valuable models that one can lift directly from the book and implement immediately. The “SCAMPER” model for brainstorming, for example, which suggestions seven ways to attack a problem in order to generate new ideas (seven ways which create the acronym by which the model is known). And the “Rubber Band” model, which, by simply reframing the language of the dilemma you face, may actually help you reach a decision that was unseeable before.
And speaking of language, there is this wonderful quotation that brand managers would be wise to heed as they think about how their decisions about strategy impact their messaging, and how their messaging impacts their brands, and how their brands ultimately decide their own destiny:
Pay attention to your thoughts, because they become words. Pay attention to your words because they become actions. Pay attention to your actions, because they become habits. Pay attention to your habits, because they become your character. Pay attention to your character because it is your fate.
Which is useful because it reminds us, amidst all these models for making decisions, just what’s at stake. Just as this insight buried in the middle of the book reminds us what we’re really trying to accomplish:
…We think we can determine our future. However, we tend to forget that every future has a past, and that our past is the foundation on which our future is built.
That’s why the important question is not ‘How do I imagine my future?’ but ‘How do I create a connection, a bridge, between the past (e.g., of a project) and the future?’
Seeing decisions not as isolated formula for solving problems, but instead as bridges between where you are and where you want to go – that may turn out to be the best model of all, actually.
The Decision Book by Mikael Krogerus & Roman Tschäppeler, was published by W.W. Norton Co in 1/30/2012 – order it from Amazon here, or order from Barnes & Noble here, or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).