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September 2013

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PD TO GO: Simplify Your Decision Making

By Amy Orlov, Director of Professional Education & Training, GMAC

Whether it is sharing best practices at a conference, tuning into a “how-to” webinar, or perhaps reading the latest business best-seller, we can all benefit from some professional development (PD) now and then. PD is a way for you to pause, hit the refresh button, and perhaps return to the same view with a different perspective. GMAC has always considered the professional development of school professionals – connecting you to the knowledge and networks you need to be successful – as one of its chief priorities. 

Cover image of Decisive bookBut for many of us, professional development is just one more thing we have to make time for. Not anymore. We would like to introduce our new leadership and professional development monthly column, PD TO GO. We are bringing leadership and professional development information—book reviews, best practices, event highlights, insightful stories—directly to your inbox.

For our inaugural column, I thought it timely to review Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Does it sound familiar? It should! Our 2013 Annual Conference opening keynote, Chip Heath, co-authored the book (with his brother, Dan). If you were at the conference, you received a copy. If you’re like me, you were excited to get the book and more excited to read it after listening to his keynote. However, also like me, you may have returned from Vancouver and the book sat on your “to read” pile for a long time (perhaps it’s still there?). 

As we all know, from the moment we wake up and decide what to wear, until we fall asleep regretting what we wore, decision making is unavoidable. Last month, I found myself “stuck” in the midst of a problem and started to make a pro-and-con list. And then I remembered Chip and Dan’s book. As an unabashed fan of the Heath Brothers, I consider their past two books, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard and Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, to be management must-reads. I’m not sure why I waited so long to read Decisive, but I’m glad I finally did.   

In true Heath Brothers’ fashion, they simplify the whole process with an easy to remember acronym—WRAP. (I like to call it The Decisionator which will mean something to anyone around the world with children who watch the Disney Channel, specifically Phineas and Ferb). Just point and shoot and any decision is vaporized into a “why didn’t I think of that before” moment. Here’s how it works using WRAP.

  • W = Widening Your Options. Chip and Dan assert that we often frame our decisions in very narrow terms, such as “chocolate or vanilla” or “move to a new city or stay put.” But this automatically limits your choices and neither might be the best option. They suggest you consider “and” rather than “or” in decision making, finding ways to expand your options so there is an array of genuinely good choices. Perhaps chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry on the same cone was the best option after all!

  • R = Reality Check. According to Chip and Dan, we tend to seek information that supports the decision we already know we’re going to make. We construct our own reality that fits our decision. What we need to do is construct a more realistic reality, which takes a lot of self-discipline. Explore opposite views, analyze our assumptions and play devil’s advocate. This isn’t easy, especially for those with big egos.

  • A = Attaining Distance. This step involves taking your emotions out of the process…but not all of your emotions. You get to keep the ones that reflect your values (this assumes we know what our values are). Here is where you have to begin asking some soul-searching questions: Are you really keeping within your company’s mission statement? Are your decisions in line with your company’s ethics? Are you being true to your personal ethos? The questions are not always easy to answer, but the good news is we tend to make better decisions, or at least ones we can better live with, if they reflect our values. 

  • P = Prepare to be Wrong (my personal favorite). This is like the fine print on The Decisionator: "The Decisionator is not responsible for any bad decisions made or the consequences thereof." It’s what every parent tells their child after a bad grade or a poor sports performance: “All that counts is that you did your best.” And, like those examples, you can’t go back and change the grade or the score, but rather you have to learn to live with it. The key is to either better anticipate a loss, and thus try to avoid it in the first place, or to recognize when you are in a losing situation and change the game plan. 

Of course, you have to read all the case studies in the book to fully understand the WRAP concept. The Heath Brothers once again hit the mark with useful and to-the-point examples. I recommend you keep the handy WRAP acronym on your desk or on your smart phone. I highly recommend going to the Heath Brother’s website for more information and great tools to help in your everyday decision making. 

We’d love to know your ideas, comments, questions or thoughts. Contact me at

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