How to Make Better Decisions

I always ask aspiring business people: How do you beat Bobby Fischer, the renowned chess champion of the 1970’s?
The Answer: Play him at anything but chess.

This excerpt is from the second chapter of Seymour Schulich’s book, Get Smarter: Life and Business LessonsSchulich is a self-made billionaire and one of Canada’s greatest philanthropists, having donated more than $350M to education and healthcare causes. His best-selling book was designed to give entrepreneurial advice to those earlier in their careers. While the book is 304 pages, it’s a quick read – most chapters are only a few pages long.

In the first chapter, Decision-Maker: A Tool for a Lifetime, Schulich suggests a simple, but practical, extension to the traditional two-column pro/con decision list.

On one sheet of paper, list all the positive things you can about the issue in question, then give each one a score from zero to ten — the higher the score, the more important it is to you.

On another sheet, list the negative points, and score them from zero to ten — only this time, ten means it’s a major drawback.

If the positive score is at least double the negative score, you should do it — whatever “it” is. But if the positives don’t outweigh the negatives by that two-to-one ratio, don’t do it, or at least think twice about it.

Adding the weighting to the traditional pro/con list ensures a small number of factors don’t overly influence the decision; unless those factors are very important to you. If you assign the scores in a relatively consistent way, the Decision-Maker can take the emotion out of an important decision.

Schulich is a big proponent of the Decision-Maker. He claims it can work for groups as well, describing how it helped in the decision to sell Franco-Nevada to Newmont Mining. In fact, Schulich goes on to say:

I have used it for virtually every major decision of my adult life. It has never let me down and it will serve you well, too.

With that endorsement, I think I’ll start using it. Maybe you should too.


One Response to How to Make Better Decisions

  1. timoelliott June 22, 2015 at 1:22 am #

    Real life decision-making is an area where simple is not necessarily better.

    In particular, a simple “pro/con” ignores any type of creativity in the solution, and so runs the very real risk of missing better options. Various thinkers and academics have proposed solutions to the problem.

    For example, Edward De Bono, who coined the term “lateral thinking,” proposes an additional option, “po” to the normal yes/no choice. His book and the relevant wikipedia post give more information on this simple tool designed to avoid false black/white decisions:

    I would also strongly recommend his work on ‘Six Thinking Hats” — designed to make implicit the reasons behind your pro and con choices, in order to better examine your own biases…


    Business Analytics blog:

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