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How Can We Make Better Choices in Life?

In 1985 the president of Intel, Andy Grove, faced a very difficult choice to make: should they stop the business with memory chips. For a while the company had been the world´s only source of memory chips and the whole business had been built on memory devices.

Meanwhile, one Intel team had developed a new product, the microprocessor, which IBM chose to be the brain of their computers in 1981. This resulted in high demand which Intel struggled to keep up with.

At the same time the memory business faced a serious threat from Japanese companies. Memory was still Intel´s main source of revenue but the customers started to get excited about the quality of the Japanese memory devices. At first Intel denied the situation, but a debate on how to respond to the competition rose in the company. Company was losing money while the microprocessor business was growing quickly. The memory business was doing damage to the company´s profits.

When the company was struggling with the change, Andy Grove had an inspiration and asked Intel´s CEO Gordon Moore: ”If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?” Gordon answered: ”He would get us out of memories.” Then Grove asked: ”Why shouldn´t you and I walk out of the door, come back in, and do it ourselves?”

”If we got kicked out and the board brought in a new CEO, what do you think he would do?” – Gordon Moore

This moment changed everything as Moore and Grove switched their perspectives and asked themselves – ”What would our successors do?” . Suddenly they saw the big picture clearly. Since then, Intel has been doing pretty well. If you invested 1000 USD in Intel on the day when Grove ”saw the light”, by 2012 your investments value would have been 47 000 USD. They made the right decision.

Sometimes you have to overcome your short-term emotions for the sake of the long-term goals. One way to do that is to shift your perspective, distance yourself from the emotions and ask: ”What would I tell my best friend to do?”

You could also do time shifting and use the rule of 10-10-10 by Suzy Welch. This rule helps to consider future and present emotions. If you use 10-10-10, you need to think your decisions in three different time frames: How am I going to feel about this in 10 minutes? How about in 10 months? How about in 10 years?

Think about a male student who´s thinking of calling a girl. The girl is his classmate and he likes her but he has talked with her only once. The guy is afraid that she won´t remember who he is if he calls.

He can either a) wait until you talk to her more before calling, or b) call her. Let’s consider the option b by using 10-10-10. On the 10-minute scale, he might be nervous for a while and if the girl is perplexed by the call, he might be embarrassed. However, in 10 months, he could have a friend or a girlfriend, or he could have long since forgotten the whole thing. In 10 years, there´s a small possibility that he found his wife and no chance that he´s still feeling the shame. Thus, the risk is worth taking. By using 10-10-10 the guy forces himself to imagine the future with the freshness of the feeling in the present.

There´s the bias to overweight short-term emotions in decision making. Sometimes these emotions make us act too quickly but many times they make us too slow to act. These feelings direct individuals and organizations toward the status quo. However, we can take some distance from these emotions by asking ”What would I tell my best friend to do?” or by using the rule of 10-10-10. This helps us to make bold and smart decisions concerning our lives and businesses when choices are difficult.

Source: All the content of this article is from a great book: Chip Heath & Dan Heath (2013), Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (New York: Crown Business). In this book, Heath brothers go through their WRAP tool for decision making and this article was mostly based on the book´s chapter ”Overcome Short-Term Emotion”.

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