Home All Should You Read Decisive? (Book Review)

Should You Read Decisive? (Book Review)

written by Giselle Nicholson 7 August 2013

Giselle Nicholson Timmerman, MAPP '06, has over nine years of experience working as a strategy consultant and leadership coach in the Americas, Europe, and Middle East. Giselle has pioneered the application of positive psychology to strategy, leadership, and organizations. She has seen the field develop firsthand and is fortunate to collaborate with the very best practitioners in the world via her collaborative consultant network, Positive Work. Giselle serves as President-elect of the Work Division for the International Positive Psychology Association. Full bio. Giselle's articles are here.

In a nutshell, Yes. But if you’ve already read this book, you would smartly refuse to directly answer my question. You would recognize that this narrowly framed, binary question tricks you into missing other available options to consider and thus should be rewritten.

Why I Liked It, Starting from Page 1



Although I enjoyed reading the Heath brothers’ books Switch and Made to Stick, they aren’t books I’ll reference and refer the way I will with Decisive. This book is a fun example of what happens when smart writers are able to synthesize a swath of multi-disciplinary research and weave it into a practical framework that facilitates behavior change.

After reading this book, you’ll have a workable process to guide you along a series of small shifts in thinking that eventually result in significant behavior change. It was impossible not to take notes in the margins on new ideas to apply in my professional work and personal life.

Questions it helps answer:

  • Re: deciding on what college to attend or whether to change jobs: What do I want out of life, and what are the best options to get me there?
  • Should I let my adult child move back home?
  • Which computer should I buy?
  • Should I open up a cupcake shop?

Many Lenses

I read this book through three of the many lenses that I use in my life: strategy and management consulting, positive psychology practice, and living my personal life.

The psychologist in me often wanted more background context for the referenced research studies (although the endnotes are quite good), yet the practitioner in me appreciated the way the authors were able to transform evidence-based insights into digestible and applicable nuggets.

Personally, I appreciate the authors’ smart and personable writing style with memorable stories and case studies. This book is particularly relevant to me because I’ve made some huge decisions over the past year. I was pleased (and a little relieved!) to discover that I’m already using many of their suggestions on an ad hoc basis, but the framework and its lessons provide me with a big picture strategy for being more thoughtful and intentional in my daily decision-making.

How the Content is Organized

The chapters are organized around a core framework called WRAP, a tool to “wrap” around your usual way of making decisions with each letter standing for a different step.

  • Widen Your Options: We all know that having more options is better than none, but we often don’t take deliberate steps to explore our pool of available options. Suggested tactics include avoiding a narrow frame of view, engaging in multitracking or simultaneous options, and looking for bright spots and best practices.
    Their laddering approach for finding bright spots (i.e., examples of exceptional performance), evaluating best practices, and employing analogies nicely packages common techniques used in management consulting, which I hadn’t before thought to apply to my personal life.
  • Reality-Test Your Assumptions: If you’re a bit of a data geek, you’ll find this chapter intriguing. Testing our assumptions is critical to evaluating our options, and it includes tactics as simple as considering the opposite and taking our options for a test drive before committing. In particular, the authors share an impossible-to-forget story about how a man evaluates his cancer treatment options by using the “zoom out, zoom in” technique to gather reliable information that informs his course of treatment.
  • Attain Distance Before Deciding: This step may be the most important because when making decisions we usually don’t consciously pause before actually making a choice. In this instance, our grandmother’s wisdom to “sleep on it” works best because it helps us to overcome short-term emotion and look past the familiarity of our status quo. It’s in this stage of the decision-making process that we must also honor our core priorities and values. Those familiar with Covey’s 7 Habits will appreciate how this chapter implicitly weaves in Habits 1 & 2.
  • Prepare to Be Wrong: I found this chapter to be the most eye-opening because as an optimist, futurist, and a maximizer I naturally like to think that I always make the most of my decisions. This chapter will give you greater confidence in your choices by helping to harness your expectations. I’ll definitely be using their suggestions for stacking the deck in my favor by preparing for good and bad situations, as well as how to set “tripwires” that specify circumstances for when I should re-evaluate a decision.

Does It Work?

I put parts of the framework to the test in two different contexts: client-related and personal advice.

I’m guiding a client through a marketing support Request for Proposal (RFP) process as part of their growth plan implementation strategy. In brief, when I suggested the idea of testing out two final candidates simultaneously for the first phase of work (to ensure cultural fit and generate more ideas) they kindly replied with, “This is why we pay you the big bucks!” So, I was able to successfully draw an appropriate idea from the framework to help a client widen options.

A friend asked for career advice about whether to study for an intensive series of difficult tests in order to keep her position, or to move on to another organization that doesn’t require she pass these tests. I briefly shared with her the overarching framework and key guiding questions, but it was a little too much for her to absorb. So, you have the option of downloading a cheat sheet on the framework from their website, but it may be difficult to assimilate it in a way that provides greater confidence and clarity to your natural decision-making style.

What I’ll Apply Moving Forward

Three more of the lessons I’m already using more deliberately are:

  • Use of data when helping clients understand usefulness of ‘devil’s advocate hat’
  • Construal-level theory and prospective hindsight
  • Coaching and capitalizing on unexpected successes

Please let me know how you enjoy the book and what you find most applicable!


Heath, C. & Heath, D. (2013). Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work. Crown Business.

Covey, S. R. (1989). The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Photo Credit: via Compfight with Creative Commons licenses
Signposts courtesy of KungPaoCajun
Gain some distance before deciding courtesy of Patty Maher
Different ways to get there courtesy of Al_HikesAZ

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tiggy 8 August 2013 - 3:57 pm

Giselle, Imagine what you would find if you applied WRAP to PP?

This whole model assumes that we don’t have blind spots

Lisa Sansom (@LVSConsulting) 8 August 2013 - 4:21 pm

Thanks for this Giselle – I have been curious about this book since it came out. I have really enjoyed the other Heath brother books and found them very useful and helpful. But I was wondering if there was much new in this one. It has been on my wishlist since it was released, so I’m still deciding. 🙂 What would you suggest?

Giselle 9 August 2013 - 4:15 am

Hi Tiggy, Very true, blind spots can always be a problem. However, I think the authors do a fine job of providing a few techniques in the Reality Test You Assumptions section for mitigating their existence.

Hi Lisa, I’d say go for it! There are definitely studies you will be familiar with, but there are also many more that may be new to you. And the way the authors introduce the research makes it very accessible and practical. Plus, I think it’s a great book to loan to others.

tiggy 9 August 2013 - 2:42 pm

Giselle – then using WRAP what are some of the reality checks on PP?

Michael 13 August 2013 - 11:17 am

This book is excellent and all the insights I gained from reading this can apply to every business related and personal decisions I make in my life. I’ve recommended this book to many of my friends.


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