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Summary: Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip Heath, Dan Heath

“Sometimes we are given the advice to trust our guts when we make important decisions. Unfortunately, our guts are full of questionable advice.” – Chip & Dan Heath

When we trust our gut when making decisions, we encounter three decision pitfalls:

We will rarely consider more than two options.

In 1993, Ohio State University researcher Paul Nutt examined 168 decisions of big organizations. Nutt found that 69% of the decisions only had one alternative. These two options decisions led to an unfavorable result 52% of the time.

We will be blinded by short-term emotion.

Take a moment and look back on some of the worst decisions you’ve made. Any chance you sought short-term pleasure over your long- term interests?

Book Summary: Decisive - How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work

We will have a false sense of certainty.

A study found that when Doctors feel “completely certain” about a diagnosis, they are wrong 40% of the time! In another study, when university students believed they had a 1% chance of being wrong, they turned out to be wrong 27% of the time.

To avoid these three pitfalls, we need to go to W.A.R. each time we need to make a significant decision.

iden your options

Pretend you rubbed a magic lamp, and instead of the beloved Genie in Aladdin, you got his evil brother. This evil genie takes your current options away. Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath call this the “Vanishing Options Test”.

By running this test, you pretend there are no good options left on the table. Now you need to come up with a new set of options. When you take a moment to imagine a situation where both options you were considering are off the table, you will find other promising solutions.

ttain distance

In a 1999 study, students were asked to choose between two jobs: job A would pay well but not be very fulfilling, and job B would pay less but make them feel very fulfilled. 66% of students said they would take job B.

When the researchers asked the students to advise their best friend on their job choice, 83% recommended job B. Asking “What would I tell my best friend to do?” allowed the students to gain a clear perspective, attain distance from their short-term emotions, and make a wise long-term decision.


It’s not wise to buy a new vehicle without test driving it. Why do we make other big decisions before giving them a test drive? Authors Chip Heath and Dan Heath recommend that we reality-test every big decision we make.

If you’re deciding to move to a new city, don’t make the decision based on online reviews and recommendations from friends. Take a two-week vacation, rent an Airbnb in the city you want to move to, and pretend as though you are living there (do typical day-to-day activities).

If you’re buying a new vacuum, buy three. Test them out for two weeks, and then return the two you least like.

Only commit to a big decision after you’ve reality-tested your assumptions by running a small trial.

In the book, they use the acronym W.R.A.P., with the P standing for prepare to be wrong. Reality-testing partially prepares you to be wrong by testing your assumptions before you leap.

Here is a quick summary of the section ‘prepare to be wrong’: The future is uncertain, and we never know what the future will have in store. We must consider a plausible worst-case scenario, take out insurance, install a tripwire (an early warning system), or a pre- established exit point (like a stop loss on a stock purchase).

About the author

CHIP HEATH is a professor at the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. He lives in Los Gatos, California. DAN HEATH is a senior fellow at Duke University’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE). He lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. The Heath brothers are the bestselling authors of Made to Stick and Switch. They write a regular column in Fast Company magazine, and have appeared on Today, NPR’s Morning Edition, MSNBC, CNBC, and have been featured in Time, People and US News and World Report.

Chip Heath is a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford University, and his brother Dan Heath is a senior fellow at Duke University. They have co-authored two other bestsellers: Made to Stick and Decisive.


“Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work” by Chip Heath and Dan Heath is a compelling and insightful book that delves into the art and science of decision-making. Drawing from extensive research and real-life examples, the authors provide readers with practical strategies to overcome common decision-making pitfalls and make more effective choices in both personal and professional contexts.

In “Decisive,” the Heath brothers challenge conventional wisdom and shed light on the flaws that often plague our decision-making processes. They argue that many of us fall victim to common biases, narrow options, and short-term thinking, which can lead to poor outcomes and missed opportunities. To combat these tendencies, the authors introduce a four-step framework called the WRAP process, which stands for Widening Your Options, Reality-Testing Assumptions, Attaining Distance Before Deciding, and Preparing to Be Wrong.

In the first step, “Widening Your Options,” readers learn how to generate a broader range of alternatives by seeking out new perspectives, considering unconventional approaches, and reframing the problem at hand. The authors emphasize the importance of avoiding narrow thinking and exploring a diverse set of possibilities.

The second step, “Reality-Testing Assumptions,” focuses on the need to gather accurate information and challenge our preconceived notions. By seeking out data, conducting experiments, and seeking feedback from others, individuals can gain a more accurate understanding of the situation and make more informed decisions.

“Attaining Distance Before Deciding,” the third step, highlights the significance of taking a step back and gaining perspective. The authors provide various techniques for achieving distance, such as considering the advice we would give to a friend in a similar situation, conducting a pre-mortem analysis to anticipate potential pitfalls, and exploring our core values and long-term goals.

The final step, “Preparing to Be Wrong,” emphasizes the importance of embracing the possibility of being mistaken. By actively seeking out disconfirming information, preparing backup plans, and maintaining a growth mindset, individuals can navigate uncertainty and increase their chances of making successful decisions.

Throughout the book, the authors supplement their framework with numerous engaging anecdotes and case studies that illustrate the concepts they present. They explore topics such as decision paralysis, confirmation bias, overconfidence, and the influence of emotions on decision-making, offering practical strategies to mitigate these biases and make more effective choices.

“Decisive” is a highly informative and thought-provoking book that offers a fresh perspective on decision-making. The authors successfully blend rigorous research with engaging storytelling, making complex concepts accessible and relatable to readers from various backgrounds.

One of the book’s strengths lies in its actionable advice. The WRAP framework provides a clear and practical structure for making better decisions, and the authors offer a wealth of techniques and strategies to implement at each step. Whether it’s brainstorming techniques for widening options or mental exercises for attaining distance, readers are equipped with a toolkit to improve their decision-making skills.

Moreover, the book’s emphasis on overcoming common biases and pitfalls is invaluable. By highlighting the psychological factors that often hinder sound decision-making, the authors empower readers to recognize and address these biases in their own lives. The inclusion of real-life examples adds depth and authenticity to the concepts, enabling readers to see the relevance of the book’s principles in everyday situations.

While the book is comprehensive and covers a wide range of decision-making challenges, some readers may find certain sections repetitive or overly detailed. Additionally, given the breadth of topics covered, readers looking for in-depth exploration of specific decision-making theories or models may need to seek additional resources.

In conclusion, “Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work” is a valuable resource for anyone seeking to enhance their decision-making abilities. Chip Heath and Dan Heath’s insightful framework and practical strategies provide readers with the tools to navigate complex choices and improve outcomes. By implementing the WRAP process and adopting the book’s principles, readers can become more deliberate and effective decision-makers in both personal and professional spheres.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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