What to Do? Decision-Making in the 21st Century

Recently, and for reasons unknown, I have been asked to help friends and family make some pretty big life decisions. Maybe it is the change of seasons, or perhaps with my advancing age and endless wisdom I have finally earned some credibility. Yeah, I didn’t think so either.

Regardless of the reasons, these requests did get me thinking about how I have made decisions in my life. When you think about it, we are faced with decisions every day. And we start to make decisions as soon as we are old enough to have an opinion!

What will I eat for lunch?
What will I wear the first day of school?
Who will I be friends with?
What will I study in college?
What kind of job will I look for?
Where will I live?
Who will I marry?

That is a lot of decision-making. And in this age of endless technology, I am amazed that there isn’t an app for that. Oh wait! There IS an app for that; several, in fact. Let’s take a look at how the simple (or not so simple) art of decision-making has been placed in the palm of our hands.

First, there is ChoiceMap. This app is described as simplifying the decision-making process in such a way that you end up making the best decision without even knowing it. Really? Apparently it works by having you create a list of options and factors that are driving your decision, and by using a system of ranking and prioritizing, you come to your decision! According to the video from ChoiceMap creators, it can help people avoid making mistakes with decisions.

Next up, there is the slightly softer Decision Buddy. This app comes with hundreds of preloaded decision-making options to work with. You enter the activity, the purpose, and a date, and the app provides options for you to choose from. You can even share the options with a group of friends and have them vote on the decision together (anonymously, of course). I think I am the living version of Decision Buddy. I can come up with a ton of options to share. I just don’t always let people vote!

Now, when you think about the painful and challenging decisions you face over a lifetime, which one is the most difficult? If you said “getting a group (or even a couple) to decide what to do for dinner,” you are not alone! That is where Urbanspoon saves the day! This app takes your current location and suggests places to eat in the area. You can filter by type of food, cost, or even reviews. So that is one decision you don’t have to worry about anymore.

And finally, there is the Ultimate Decision Maker app, which actually calls itself “an advanced Magic 8-Ball.” With options like a coin flipper, a random number generator, a dice roller, and a lottery-type number ball generator, you really can’t lose. Just make sure that the options you are selecting from are the best options, and that you really don’t care about the result!

Even with all of the smart apps available, I am still a fan of the old pros and cons list. If you are like me, and not ready to hand decisions over to a piece of plastic, Trevor Lohrbeer from Lean Decisions offers the following advice in his article, “10 Tips for Better Pro-Con Lists”:

  • Make sure to use the pros/cons list for the right type of decision—go/no go, continue/cancel, and yes/no work best. Avoid using this for decisions with more than two choices.
  • Phrase questions so that you can clearly choose an answer.
  • Make sure the choices you are choosing between are truly different; otherwise, you are just working through a process to get to the answer you already wanted.
  • Make the pros and cons specific to the situation.
  • Ask yourself why a pro is indeed a pro, and why a con is in fact a con.
  • Don’t list the same pro or con multiple times.
  • Avoid combining pros or cons into the same statement.
  • Categorize the pros and cons so you can work to ensure you are thinking through all of the issues.
  • Take time to identify which cons are fixable, or short-term cons that could eventually be pros.
  • Try looking at the issue from different angles, and generating the pros/cons list. Compare to your original list and see how similar the pros and cons are (hint: they should be the same!).

Decision-making is never easy. Whether you use one of the many traditional tools available (pros/cons, fishbone diagrams, SWOT analyses) or an app to guide your thinking, there is no way to avoid the emotional side of planning to make a change or take action. Although we all know we can’t plan for everything, we can make sure our decisions are well-informed ones. With time and focus, you can work to make sure your decisions are the right ones.

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