Infographic of four decision-making techniques

4 useful decision-making techniques from the audiobook Decisive

Paolo Bongiovanni22 Dec 23

Decisive the audiobook

Decisive book cover

Audiobook Title: Decisive
Authors: Chip and Dan Heath
Listening time: 9 hours
Concentration level required: OK while driving on the motorway
Content rating: 8 / 10
Narration rating: 8 / 10

Decisive is a book about decision-making in your personal and professional life. It introduces a decision-making process that can make you choose better options - in aggregate.

The audiobook is a worthwhile purchase, even at ten years of age, still providing good advice and techniques.

I won't look at the book's contents in this article, which Sam T Davies nicely summarises.

I will focus on a few of the techniques mentioned in the book that I used in the last few months, sometimes in contexts that had nothing to do with decision-making, and give you practical examples of how I employed them.


Multitracking is exploring multiple options before committing to one or more winners instead of picking one and running with it from the outset.

Multitracking is useful when facing decisions that meet some of the following conditions:

  1. You have many potential options, each carrying considerable costs in terms of time and money.
  2. There is not enough information to pick a good option without exploring each option in some depth.
  3. The cost of running an exploration on multiple options is less than the cost of picking a bad option, or the cost is negligible compared to the windfall of selecting a good choice.

The example made in Decisive is about a design brief that asked designers to develop three different designs. The designers would undergo two rounds of critique on all three of the designs at the same time, and they would refine all three designs before the following round.

Traditionally, each designer works on a single design and iterates on it after receiving feedback.

As a result of multitracking, the designers were less inclined to get attached to one of their designs and could receive feedback as a critique of the design instead of a critique of them as designers.

Multitracking in Product strategy

About a month ago, I wondered if I should keep focusing on Mindiply Timeline, a project timeline tool, integrate the decision-making app Mindiply Decido into Mindiply Timeline, or revive the brainstorming platform Neonce.

I started to wonder because I have content on the Mindiply website about decision-making and creativity that receives regular organic traffic from search engines. Still, there is no relevant product I can offer!

Ultimately, I decided to alternate focus between the three products, giving most of my attention to Mindiply Timeline and reserving some time for the other two products.

There is an obvious opportunity cost by focusing on more than one product. That's why I also set up tripwires - see below - that will change my decision in the future under certain conditions.

Multitracking in content marketing

After reviewing the results of three months of SEO efforts, I wanted to know whether to keep focusing on top keywords related to project timelines or try a different approach.

This new approach would indirectly reach project managers by attracting readers like you, interested in techniques that make the most of our beautiful brains. Some of you will be project managers, and you may be tempted to explore the project management products we provide, given our approach to thinking sounds sensible and resonates with you. That's our reasoning behind the strategy; time will tell if the reasoning matches reality.

This new approach will only partially replace the previous SEO approach. We will alternate posts of the two types, often cross-linking them, switching between a project management focus and the broader world of ideas and thinking techniques.

Multitracking in exploring niche markets

A mantra that all startup advisors give startup owners is to find a niche so you can talk in a language that resonates with a specific public.

We've been less than stellar at this in the past. Currently, we are exploring niches where Mindiply Timeline provides the most benefit to our users. We plan to keep testing at least two or three niches until we detect a strong signal of interest from one or more of them.

We have already identified two segments we will explore more in-depth - small biotech firms at the forefront of research and small independent gaming companies.

Try it out - (Called Ooch in Decisive)

You face a decision where uncertainty is very high. There are many options, but there is little information available to determine the likelihood that any of them is better than the other.

One example in Decisive is about a high school student who is considering studying pharmacy at university. He chooses to do an internship at a pharmacy for a few weeks to get an idea of what being a pharmacist feels like from the inside.

Ooch product ideas

In the startup world, we run experiments on the product ideas we come up with. We create testable proofs of concepts of these ideas as quickly and cheaply as possible.

We then beg our potential future users to look at these proofs of concept and tell us what they think. We dream that someone will pray to us to give them the finished thing, money, no object. So far, that specific fantasy has not materialised yet, but I'm still hopeful - there is still a little bit of Candide in me.

⚠️ Do what I say, not what I do

Definitions of quick and cheap may differ. In our case, the definition is three years to create an MVP (minimum viable product). Most would disagree. We would disagree, too, if it were not about us. We thought we would have been done in three months. Look at tripwires and assumptions further down.

Experiments as ooching

Another form of ooch is to run cheap experiments to determine what works better. I do that regularly in all my communications.

At the time of writing, I'm validating Mindiply Timeline by running MVP interviews with project managers. I reach out to them by using LinkedIn. The outreach message I send out is now in its 7th iteration. The gist and tone have stayed the same since version one, but I'm still surprised about how the length and wording significantly affect how many kind people reply to me. For each iteration, I have two slightly different versions of the same message, and the following iteration is born by looking at the results of the previous one.

10 x 10 x 10

The 10 x 10 x 10 technique is a thought experiment that asks you to consider your decision and imagine how you will feel 10 minutes after making the decision. Then how will you feel ten months after taking it? And then how you will feel ten years after taking it. Notice that after ten months and even more probably after 10 years, you will know the outcomes of the decision, so it's worthwhile imagining how you will feel if the decision turns out to be positive and how you will feel if it turns out negative.

This technique is appropriate when the decision you are facing triggers a significant emotional response, and it is important enough that you want the effect of those emotions to be reduced. The Heath brothers point out you don't want to negate your feelings. They want you to ensure those emotions don't close your eyes to opportunities or risks that you would notice with an unencumbered, calmer mind.

I used this technique reasonably often in the last few months.

10 x 10 x 10 and startup strategy

About a month ago, I wondered what to focus on next with Mindiply once I realised that tackling project management SEO on my own is unrealistic for now. Self-doubt, a perennial companion of most startup founders, was gnawing at my resolve.

Enter the 10 x 10 x 10. Say that things go badly, and, in a few years, I close Mindiply. How will I feel 10 minutes after that? In shock. Ten months after? I will be hyper-focused and buzzing from whatever new adventure I have embarked on. Ten years after? I will have integrated the disappointment of Mindiply not flourishing into my life narrative as an essential learning experience, as a bridge between my younger and my mature years.

That simple thought exercise allowed me to calm down and look for what I can work on instead, hence my decision to focus on SEO that does not directly tackle project management but focuses on ideas, thinking, and exciting books - things where I can rank higher with an amount of effort I can afford to commit.

10 x 10 x 10 and disagreement with my personal trainer

Now for a personal episode that highlights the versatility of the 10x10x10 technique. In the last few years, things have been difficult personally, and my biweekly gym sessions have been a positive counterpoint to the other challenges I faced. Unfortunately, my personal trainer and I came to see things differently about the terms and conditions of our relationship, and my emotions flared up significantly because of how attached I've grown to our workouts.

With the 10x10x10 technique, I worked out how I would have felt about continuing and stopping our relationship. I've had positive discussions with the trainer, even with high emotions during those discussions. We managed to find a good balance between our different points of view, and I still give my best twice a week.

Set a tripwire

You've made a decision. Great. You start going at it with effort and enthusiasm. After a few weeks, you have established a good work routine, and things are chugging along nicely. You're on autopilot.

The problem with the autopilot is that it may be too late once you realise it should have been disengaged months before. That's why it's helpful to set a tripwire. You determine a set of conditions that, if met, suggest you stop and review where things are going.

A fun example given in Decisive is about a rock band whose singer is known to go berserk if, in the backstage of their shows, he finds a bowl of M&Ms that includes any blue ones. It makes for newsworthy notoriety, but, more importantly, it works for the band as a warning system. The firm that is preparing the band's stage is supposed to follow to the letter their very, very detailed contract to set up the stage.

The bowl of M&Ms with no blue ones is mentioned in the middle of the lengthy contract. If the company setting up the stage overlooks the bowl of M&Ms, the band suspects that the company will have taken other parts of the contract lightly as well.

Tripwires for startup strategy

As a founder, I've set up tripwires as progress conditions that I check in four-month cycles. At the start of the cycle, based on my current strategic direction, I set a few criteria that warn me if that direction is wrong.

Four-month cycles balance the need for checking we are heading in the right direction with the need to spend enough time doing something to be able to see results.

My two primary goals for Q4 2023 were:

  1. Improve my SEO positioning with keywords related to project timelines. I set up a target goal of 20 weekly trials, coming from 200 landings to web pages related to project management. From an SEO perspective, I expected 200 clicks from Google every week. The results have been much less than that, hovering around 35 weekly clicks in the middle of December 2023. I had to reconsider how to approach SEO for the following quarter.
  2. Conduct MVP interviews to validate the Mindiply Timeline product and also identify which groups of project managers reacted the best to it. My target was to conduct 30 interviews by the end of 2023.
    I had six interviews, and, in this case, I triggered positive tripwires. Each interview has been precious in learning about what is good and what is less so in Mindiply Timeline, and I met some wonderful people who took the time to talk with a stranger. I'm building a longer-lasting working relationship with a couple of interviewees.

As an additional note, I've found it very useful to write down the assumptions behind the target metrics measuring progress toward my objectives.

In terms of SEO, I focused on keywords that Ahrefs and I thought would be easy targets. As reported above, that was the assumption behind my goal of 30 organic clicks per week. Then reality happened. Increasing my search results positioning takes a lot of work. Mindiply's domain rating is low compared to the very well-established players in the project management market.

It means that the articles I wrote won't rank high until I manage to increase the domain rating, to begin with. But to improve the domain rating, you need backlinks, and no one will know about those decent articles if I don't rank - the snake eating its tail and all of that.

The tripwire was fired, and I'm in the process of setting a new direction, new targets, and new assumptions for Q1 2024. The fundamental target of a regular flow of product trials has stayed the same, but how I try to get there has changed.

Infographic of the four decision-making techniques

We prepared a little infographic you can use in the future to jog your memory about the decision-making techniques we discussed. Feel free to download the full-sized version!

Infographic with flowcharts of our four favourite Decisive techniques

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