A Different Approach to Decision-Making

Decision-making does not have to be daunting and stressful with these different approaches.

When we think about making a decision about something, we almost always think about two roads diverging. A fork in the road. A choice to make.

Metaphors like this can be very daunting and overwhelming. Decision-making as a process can be pressurising by itself. So instead of increasing the pressure with such heavy metaphors, why not think of some lighter metaphors for decision-making?

A Closet Full of Jackets:

As a conversation between authors Ryan Holiday and Tim Ferris brings to our notice in The Daily Stoic podcast, when we think about decisions, when we think about the ‘choosing one of the forks in the road’, we think going back on the ‘other’ road is not possible.

Ferris suggests that instead of the fork, the process of decision-making could be seen as a process of opening a closet and choosing the jacket you wish to put on. If you don’t like the jacket, you can always put it back and choose something else that suits your needs better. No drama, no do-or-die anxiety to deal with.

Decision-making often is actually a matter of trial and error in the process; of choosing the right jacket from the closet.

It’s not a ‘wrong fork’ you chose- it’s actually just a different jacket that’s needed! Say, you decided to change your career, and it didn’t go according to plan and now you decide to go back to your old career. Viewing that decision as the ‘wrong fork’ would make you feel horrible about the change in plans. However, viewing it as the time to go back to wearing your old jacket would enable one to de-escalate the pressure, see it for what it is- an experience to learn from, instead of an experience to be bitter about. Just a jacket to change back to.

There are More than Two Forks on the road:

Some of us would still be sceptical of this approach. What if we don’t wish to go back? Some decisions are indeed irreversible.

In that case, one more approach comes in handy- why see only a two-forked road? Why not think of the forked road like a cutlery fork- having multiple forks, multiple arrows, each leading to a different outcome? Having a sense of more choices, instead of a ‘this or that’ approach would be freeing. There isn’t just a plan B, but also a plan C, D and E.

There are not just two roads diverging- there are perhaps four or five roads, and we have the choice to weigh in our options, and then make a decision.

So, the next time you find yourself at cross-roads and a decision must be made, remind yourself that you are not actually at cross-roads and are instead looking at a process of trial and error. You are looking at a vast closet full of different jackets to try out, and you just need to pick the one that helps you combat the weather. If it doesn’t, you can always go back and change! You are looking at a road with multiple forks, and you have a broad set of potential outcomes to choose from!

Things to Keep in Mind Before Deciding to Change Careers

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Change is not always easy, especially when it comes to changing careers.

There are questions asked. There is a sense of having had enough of the present career, and at the same time there is a lingering self-doubt. Whether it’s you yourself contemplating over these questions, or someone else questioning your decision, it is not uncommon to find yourself wondering:

  • Will I be able to do it?
  • Do I have what it takes to start over?
  • Is it wise to make this leap?
  • Am I making the right decision?

You may or may not be able to answer these questions with conviction, because after all, sometimes you don’t know until you try.

But there are some things you can keep in mind before you actually take the plunge and decide to change careers.


Think Why:

Why do you want to change careers? Is it because you want to take a leap of faith, or is it because you want to run away from your current job? Is it because your job has been wearing you down?

As we mentioned briefly in one of our previous posts about strategic quitting, it is necessary to think if it is the job or career itself that is the problem, or any particular assignment.

  • Would things get better when that particular assignment is over?
  • Would the storm-clouds clear once that difficult discussion is over?
  • Is it just a phase that you are dreading, and how long would it take for it to pass?
  • Are you threatening something long-term by getting bogged down by a short-term problem?
  • Is quitting the assignment an option? Can you delegate it?
  • Do you want to switch companies?


Making this distinction between a need to change workplace and a need to change career is necessary.



Think What:

Often, we think about changing careers, and stop there. As a result, we might end up in the wrong job. Again.

To get a clearer understanding of your decision, and avoid making the mistake of choosing a wrong job, it is a good idea to think about what you want from your career change.

Think along questions like:

  • What skills do I want to use or want to develop?
  • What type of challenges do I want to face at work?
  • What can I see myself doing long-term?
  • What am I missing in my present line of work?


But thinking about the skills you want to use should go along with thorough research. Read on the next bit.


Steer Clear From Generalised Rose-tinted Research:

Do you want a career change, or do you want to use a particular skill, which can be used in other ways without switching careers?

Researching thoroughly about the potential new career is important. Each career comes with its challenges and unlikable aspects; are you prepared, or willing to learn to handle those?

For example, you may think teaching is the career you want to get into from your managerial one. You have a passion to impart knowledge to young minds. But apart from imparting knowledge, teaching can also include managing unruly pupils, correcting piles of exam papers, repetitively teaching the same material for years etc,.

Taking off the rose-tinted glasses while researching about a new career will give a realistic picture of the scenario.


Prepare a Plan:

If you do decide to change careers, it is necessary to do some planning.

This includes preparing a financial plan.

Changing careers is not the same as switching companies. Sometimes, people might not be willing to wait till they get a job and then handing the notice in the present one. Switching careers can have phases of staying at home.

One might get a new job in the new career line in days, weeks or even months. It is necessary that there is some financial plan to pass those days of transition, where there will be an absence of steady income.

It is also necessary to make a psychological plan to endure those days of transition. Psychological planning can include anything from:

  • Setting up a strict routine, where you divide time between job hunting and leisure time
  • Learning new skills, required for the career change or anyway for hobby.

Psychological planning is necessary to stay sane when faced with the unstructured routine and uncertainty that comes with transitions.

Before you do decide to take the leap, it is necessary to try to make things right in your present arena. One final thing to wonder is if it a career change you want or you want to better the circumstances of your current one.

Changing careers can be tricky, but it’s not impossible. Setting priorities right, researching and planning are the first few steps towards making that necessary change in your professional life!



Choosing Carefully Between Job Offers

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You were looking for a job since long now. Sometimes, you thought the interview went well but sadly, you didn’t receive any call. Other times, you gave the interview but politely turned the offer down because it didn’t match your expectations.

It was a frustrating process but finally, your hard-work paid off, and you have got a job offer!

But wait, there’s another too.

You can’t help but wonder at the irony of life when at one moment you were not sure if you would find what you are looking and now you have two offers. Both are the kind of offers you were looking for, and now you are spoilt for choice.

How to make an informed decision, now that you have multiple job offers?


Getting the Facts Right:                   

First things first, make sure you get all the information about the offers: factual and perceptual. The salary, benefits, the company and work culture, the values the company has, the reputation, the hours you need to devote, the number of leaves you are entitled to, who the manager will be, the kind of co-workers you will have, among other things.

Take all of this into consideration and compare. The general impression you got also counts. You might want to recall how you got along with the prospective manager/boss, co-workers, if you’ve had the chance. You could also try to recall how you felt when you walked into the office.



You made a list of the salary, perks, hours, commuting time, personal days, etc. But how much of this is going to be relevant to your life?

How much relevance an aspect has changes according to the individual.  For example, some places provide lunch. Someone who lives far away and has to spend a lot of time commuting would find this a very convenient and important arrangement. Some people pay more attention to the salary, while some want a shorter commute irrespective of how much they get paid, while some people want a place which has a crèche for children.

Think about your priorities, compare and then make the decision.


Long-term or Short-term?:

Which one of the offers has a scope for a long-term tenure? How would it contribute to your growth, personal satisfaction and in what ways?

What are you looking for? Do you want a job for the time-being, or do you want a job where you can possibly stay on for years with regular progress?

Think about what you exactly want, compare where the offers fit, and then make a decision. Just like the relevance of the benefits and perks differs from person to person, so does this aspect.

Here, matters concerning the family, immediate and possible life situations, etc, factor in as well.


Gut Feeling:

A very important thing to pay attention to.

This is something which just doesn’t work that rationally. A job may have all the perks you have dreamed about, the perfect salary, a company culture you were looking for, and still not feel right.

When you don’t feel right, perhaps it is time to dig a little deeper. Did the interviewer say something which was a red-flag to you? Did you perceive any hostility (not necessarily towards you) in the atmosphere?

When everything in an offer is perfect, and you still find yourself looking at the positives of the ‘lesser’ offer, it is time to be true to yourself, and try to get a deeper understanding of  what exactly are you looking for.

Gut feelings often work up when it’s time to make the call accepting the offer. If you feel any bit of hesitation, it is time to rethink and reconsider. Sometimes, the instinct picks up cues which you haven’t.

Moreover, the gut feeling often acts as a deciding factor when the offers themselves are great and more or less similar.


Paying attention to the factual, perceptual, sensory information you have gathered could help you make a truly informed decision when you have a choice to make. While you will happily accept the offer you feel and think is right for you, it is also necessary to decline the other offer politely, without burning bridges.

The Ladder of Inference: Is Your Decision Quick or Rash?

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There is a meeting going on. Someone is giving a presentation, let us call him person A. He expects everyone to pay attention to what he is saying. He spots person B “fidgeting” with his phone. He assumes B is not interested and thus has a problem with him, and at the end of the meeting when B tries to appreciate the presentation, A gives him a cold response.

Turns out, B was on his phone, but contrary to A’s assumption, for a completely different reason: he had forgotten to put his phone on silent, and had just remembered this. So he was just changing the phone settings quickly so that he can pay attention properly to what A had to say. And since it was a new phone B had just recently bought, he was taking more than usual to navigate the settings, he was still getting used to it. B was in fact,  not “fidgeting” with his phone.

Jumping to conclusions is something we are all guilty of. Most of the times it happens unconsciously. We are always in a hurry these days, and any lag in the mechanism is not acceptable. But it is important to be aware about the thin line between a quick decision and a rash decision.

 The Ladder of Inference, also known as the “Process of Abstraction”, is a phenomenon pioneered by organisational psychologist Chris Argyris, and applied by Pete Senge in his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation.


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In an era of making snap decisions and quick judgements, it is necessary to remember and when possible, apply this conceptual understanding in our corporate interactions. This is a tool that would take us a step closer to objectivity, accuracy and balance.

Now, the Ladder of Inference gives an analogy of our thought processes, as the name suggests, through rungs of a ladder.

  • The first rung is that of Reality and Facts.
  • We then take in and process the reality and facts selectively according to our past experiences and associations. This is the rung of Selected Reality.
  • According to our experiences and associations, we interpret those facts and the reality. This is the rung of Interpreted Reality.
  • We then apply the assumptions that the Interpreted Reality gives us.
  • We draw conclusions based on those assumptions.
  • We form beliefs because we “climbed” to the conclusions.
  • Our actions then are based on those beliefs.

So if we look at the example given, in the reality of the presentation and the meeting:

  • Person A took in and processed the reality of B using his phone according to the former’s existing associations and experience set. There was a process of selection.
  • Person A thus interpreted that B was fidgeting with his phone.
  • He thus assumed that B was not paying attention.
  • So, Person A formed the belief that B must have a problem with him.
  • So, according to this belief, A begins to give a cold shoulder to B. The former’s actions are now governed by the Ladder of Inference he climbed.

One only needs to imagine what would happen if the “conflict” kept on brewing and if it never got addressed.

Let us take another example. Miss Y went for an interview in a crumpled shirt. The interviewer Miss Z  made an assumption in her head that Miss Y is untidy and not so nicely groomed and hence unprofessional. But she decided to not jump to conclusions, and hence decided to simply ask Miss Y the reason for her untidiness. Miss Y then replied that she lives very far away, and she had actually ironed her clothes well, but the three hour crowded local train journey in the heat took away all the crispness.

Miss Z simply paused and asked herself in a quick mental process:

  • Had she dug up enough data?
  • Was the assumption well-founded?
  • Would the assumption lead to a valid conclusion?
  • Had she considered all facts, and are there any other facts she should be looking at?
  • What belief is her action based on, and is there any other better way to act based on a different belief?

These seemingly simple questions go a long way.

All it takes is asking questions at each rung to ensure dialogue, co-operation and better decision making.

The Ladder of Inference thus proves to be useful, in order to not fall off. The rung allows us to be mindful about our thought process and the steps we take while making decisions. Taking conscious pauses while climbing the rung could eventually turn into an unconscious habit, leading us a step closer to making well-informed, well-balanced just decisions.