What If I Don’t – A Decision-Making Framework

I want to discuss one of the decision making frameworks I use day to day. Unlike many, this takes a deliberately negative look at decision making. Rather than a lot of these things that look at “Imagine and manifest, if you want it, it will happen” or “Think of the good things that will happen if you do this now, rather than later”, this flips it and says “What if I don’t do this, what are the consequences and knock on effects”.

As an example of the two different ways of looking at a problem, let’s take my daughter tidying her room.

“What if I do tidy my room”

  • Mum and dad will be happy for the next day or two.
  • I get to have friends over whilst it is tidy
  • I can find things
  • I can have new things as there will be room

“What if I don’t tidy my room”

  • Mum and Dad will be angry every day that my room is not tidy
  • I can’t have friends over
  • I can’t find things
  • I can’t have new things, there is no space
  • It will get worse and worse and may become a health hazard

Now, on the surface, these seem just like a mirror image, but there is an interesting difference. Not tidying the bedroom has longer lasting negative effects than tidying the room has positive. Mum and Dad will be happy for a day or two if the room is tidy, not being tidy will lead to them being angry every day that it is not tidy. You get instant gratification and a short gain, but nothing much more, versus short term and long term losses.

What if i dont 1024x229 What If I Don 8217 t 8211 A Decision Making Framework
what if i don’t?

There is also a little bit of irrational logic going on here, Loss Aversion. We are much more affected by the thought of losing something than we are by gaining something. Losing £10 is much more painful than winning or finding £10 is joyful and the pain lasts longer.

This is why free trials are such an effective way of increasing subscribership, even though they look like a loss maker. Once a person has become used to the service (for instance Spotify), the pain of losing it after the trial period has ended outweighs the inconvenience of paying after the trial.

In our example of tidying the bedroom, the fear of not being able to have friends over or have new things is much more salient than the inverse, because it feels as though they are losing something.

It is a subtle, but very effective change in thinking, don’t consider what you will gain by doing something, think of what you could lose if you don’t.

Do I answer this email now or later?

If I answer it now, it is done and the client is happy.

If I don’t, it sits there pushing other work back, costing me more time later. The client is unhappy, my project manager is then made aware and is also unhappy. My boss gets a nudge from the project manager and they are unhappy. The manager then has a go at me, so I am unhappy and in trouble.

So whilst the benefit seems minimal, the client is happy, and the unintended consequences of not replying to that email are far worse over time!

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