Mind Tools for Making Decisions

We were trying to make a decision at home, and it was turning out to be really difficult.

There are those decisions in life that can affect a lot of other parts of your life. Which options are there? Which option might be the best? But what about all the risk involved with that kind of decision?

It turns out that there are a couple of nice mind tools, or thought tools, to help you make a decision. I guess back in the academic life I would have called these “conceptual frameworks”.

Ask questions

The overall learning I’ve had is that smart people solve things by asking questions.

A question is a simple thing, but it can be easy to avoid ones I subconciously think might have scary conclusions.

An example of this is Anna Salamon’s questions we don’t automatically ask ourselves. She talks about goals. It’s easy to aim for a goal… but why are you aiming for that goal in the first place?

5 Whys

I’m sure you’ve heard of this technique:

  • State something you want to acheive or change
  • Ask “why?”, and answer it
  • Ask “why?” four subsequent times, for each of your subsequent answers

Reverse Brainstorming

As described on mindtools.com, as with a lot of other decision-making techniques.

You just reverse your objective and brainstorm how you would acheive that goal.

So instead of asking “how can I improve the situation”, ask “how could I make this situation worse?”. For me, I asked “how can I make my life bad”. Some insights quickly show up like “sleep less!” and “exercise less!”.

Influence Diagrams

This technique is very smart. It’s a diagramming technique where you draw out your decision to make, the uncertainties affecting the decision, and things that you’d acheive from the decision (and alternatives to the decision).

It’s a tool for empowering you to make a diagram of your decision. It gives you the power to see the decision in front of you. You can make one quickly, discuss it with others, and iterate.

The linked article mentions that this brings you quickly to the question of whether you’re trying to make the decision at the right level. So I might be thinking “should I upgrade my kitchen?”, but the real decision to make could be “should I be living in this city?”.

Lumina.com describes what the different shapes mean in influence diagrams.

(These are related to “systems thinking”, which has concepts such as feedback loops. See the book “The Fifth Discipline”.)

Goal Factoring

As discussed and diagrammed by Sacha Cha, it can be a bottom-up goals process. Instead of (or as well as, probably) asking yourself what your goals are, list out the actions you currently undertake. Map those actions to goals you’re trying to acheive. Then the trick is, you ask yourself what more effective ways might you acheive those same goals.

Those are some of the decision tools/techniques I’ve come across. There’s more on mindtools.com decision making.

If you know of a book that covers these type of approaches, do please get in touch.