Framework for Decision-Making

Issue → Options → Arguments → Decision

Table of Contents

  1. Top-Down Framework for Decision-Making
    1. Articulate the Issue
    2. Frame the Options
    3. Formulate the Arguments
    4. Evaluate the Arguments and Decide
  2. IOA Diagrams: Issue, Options, Arguments
    1. Capital Punishment
    2. Gun Control Laws
  3. Decision-Making Tools
    1. Decision Trees
    2. Decision Theory
    3. Forecasting Models
    4. Devil’s Advocate Review
    5. Analysis of Bad Decision-Making
    6. Analysis of Alternatives

Top-Down Framework for Decision-Making

  1. Articulate the issue to be decided
  2. Frame the options that address the issue
  3. Formulate the arguments for and against the options
  4. Evaluate the arguments and decide
Articulate the Issue
  • Articulate the issue to be decided clearly and precisely, preferably in writing.
  • Issues should be expressed rather than merely referred to.
    • For example, “how should we combat global warming” versus “the problem of global warming.”
  • It’s better to express an issue as an open-ended question, other things being equal.
    • Closed-ended Questions
      • Should X be done?
    • Open-ended Questions
      • What should be done?
      • How, where, and when should X be done?
  • Capital Punishment, an Example
    • Closed-ended Question
      • Should capital punishment be abolished?
      • Options: Yes, No
    • Open-ended Question
      • How should the very worst crimes be punished?
      • Options: capital punishment, life imprisonment without parole
    • Consider the argument that capital punishment deters capital crimes.  In considering the closed-ended CP question you may ask merely whether CP deters capital crimes.  In entertaining the open-ended question, however, you’re more likely to ask the important question: does CP deter capital crimes more effectively than life imprisonment without parole?
  • How to Make a Big Decision, Steven Johnson, New York Times
    • “One important insight that has emerged from the research is the importance of generating alternatives to any course of action you are considering.
    • Professor Paul Nutt and other researchers have demonstrated a strong correlation between the number of alternatives deliberated and the ultimate success of the decision itself. In one of his studies, Professor Nutt found that participants who considered only one alternative ultimately judged their decision a failure more than 50 percent of the time, while decisions that involved contemplating at least two alternatives were felt to be successes two-thirds of the time. 
    • The upshot is clear: If you find yourself mapping a “whether or not” question, looking at a simple fork in the road, you’re almost always better off turning it into a “which one” question that gives you more available paths.”
Frame the Options
  • Frame the options that address the issue
Formulate the Arguments
  • Formulate the arguments for and against the options
  • Arguments for and against options are normative arguments, from reasons to a course of action.
  • Kinds:
    • deontic argument is an argument from a principle to a course of action
      • You shouldn’t shoplift because stealing is wrong.
    • consequence argument is an argument for a course of action based on the probability and value of its projected consequences.
      • You shouldn’t shoplift because you might get caught.
    • An analogical normative argument is a deductive argument that an action should be done because no relevant difference exists between it and actions that clearly should be done

View Normative Arguments

Evaluate the Arguments and Decide
  • Decide. Then rationalize your decision.
    • Rationalize means to bring into accord with reason or cause something to seem reasonable (Merriam-Webster)

IOA Diagrams:
Issue, Options, Arguments

Capital Punishment

View Capital Punishment

Gun Control Laws

View Gun Control

Decision-Making Tools

Decision Trees

View Decision Trees

Decision Theory

View Decision Theory

Forecasting Models

View Forecasting Models

Devil’s Advocate Review
  • In Billion Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn from the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last 25 Years Carroll and Mui recommend a Devil’s Advocate Review for major business decisions.
    • “Human beings are hard-wired for bad decision making in complex situations. We home in on answers before examining all the facts, and then seek evidence to confirm our answers. We are adversely influenced by emotion, loyalties, and groupthink. However, decision making can be improved by encouraging conflict and questioning assumptions. A devil’s advocate review should be built into the strategy-making process.”
Analysis of Bad Decision-Making

View Analysis of Bad Decision-Making

Analysis of Alternatives

Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) is a requirement of military acquisition policy that at least three feasible alternatives be analyzed prior to making costly investment decisions.