I had a chance to interview Cheryl Strauss Einhorn, author of Problem Solved: A Powerful System for Making Complex Decisions with Confidence & Conviction (Career Press, April 2017), which I reviewed on this site. Cheryl’s book helps readers arrive at successful outcomes when making critical decisions.
Where do people often go wrong when they’re making important decisions?
One of the main things that inhibits good decision making is that it’s difficult not to rely on our natural mental assumptions, biases and judgments. Much has been written lately about how we’re all prey to mental mistakes, what I call mental myopia. While our instinct to piece things together from incomplete information can be both good and bad, in making a high stakes decision, we want to avoid the bad.
Can you describe how your AREA Method helps us make better decisions?
AREA is the first system to not only control for, but also to counteract mental shortcuts. It points out flaws in your understanding of the research to highlight and help catch – and correct for — failures of data and failures of analysis.
And how do the steps in your methodology build on one another?
The steps — A, R, E, A — are essentially a series of concentric circles that mine the insights and incentives of others. The first A stands for Absolute information, meaning information that represents the perspective closest to the entity at the core of your decision. The next two steps, R-Relative and E-Exploration, are sources that surround the target. They’re related, but also add layers of bias. The next concentric circle, Exploitation, directs you to examine your own biases and assumptions related to what you’ve learned. This phase is almost always a game-changer. The exercises often change the calculation for how to consider the available options. The last circle, Analysis, advises you on how to come to conviction.
By thinking of the process as concentric circles, you can also visualize re-entry points that allow you to “circle” back into earlier phases of the process, should you need more data or more analysis. High-stakes decisions deserve time and attention. Too often we’re in a rush to reach a conclusion and don’t take the time for reflection. AREA builds in strategic stops during and after each part of your research.
Conducting research can be daunting. What’s the best way to decide where and how to start?
Your ability to make a thoughtful decision is dependent on the quality of the information you have. This means that a good research process is integral to your decision making. Popular decision making books and tools often lump ‘do research’ into a single step. AREA recognizes that research is an umbrella term for a whole series of tricky steps that need to be carefully navigated and thoughtfully completed.
AREA asks you to begin by being mindful of the edges and pitfalls in your research. Some research is easy — the information is accessible, plentiful and clear. Other research is cumbersome and the information may be opaque or insufficient. Recognizing where things may be working and where you may be at a disadvantage can make the process more effective and efficient.
One case study in Problem Solved follows a high school senior as he uses the AREA Method to decide what college to attend. Explain how AREA helped him with his decision.
Micah wanted to pursue medicine and was deciding between two very different colleges: Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pittsburgh. He had only a few weeks to make the decision.
Initially, Micah saw his decision as figuring out which of these two colleges would get him into the best medical school. But as he began learning about the pre-med path, Micah discovered that the numbers were against him: At both Hopkins and Pitt, only about 20 percent of freshmen with a declared interest in pre-med actually applied to medical school.
Armed with this information, Micah understood that the critical question he needed to answer was not which undergraduate option would get him into the best medical school, but which one would best set him up to succeed in completing the rigorous undergraduate pre-med requirements. Micah realized that he had to reframe his decision, and determine which college would provide him with a pre-med support system and the best learning experience so he could get into medical school.
Learn more at Area Method.