156: Making Complex Decisions Confidently with Cheryl Strauss Einhorn

By May 17, 2017Podcasts

 

 

Journalist Cheryl Strauss Einhorn shares a robust approach to complex decision-making via AREA perspective-taking method.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to make complex decisions with the AREA Method
  2. Why you should document your decision problems
  3. How to slow down to speed up your decision-making

About Cheryl

Cheryl Einhorn is the creator of the AREA Method, a decision making system for individuals and companies to solve complex problems. Cheryl is the founder of CSE Consulting and the author of the book Problem Solved, a Powerful System for Making Complex Decisions with Confidence & Conviction. Cheryl teaches as an adjunct professor at Columbia Business School and has won several journalism awards for her investigative stories about international political, business and economic topics.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Cheryl, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Thanks so much for having me. I’ve been looking forward to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes, me too. I am excited to hear all about your problem-solving expertise. First, though, I’m very curious to learn, so your book just came out and you have the Foreword by Tony Blair, which is impressive. How did that come about?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Well, it’s very exciting. So the book is called Problem Solved: A Powerful System for Making Complex Decisions with Confidence and Conviction, and I had been doing some work with Tony around some of the speeches that he had been working on, and also a website that deals with religion and geopolitics, and we normally talk about him.

And one day he asked me what’s new with me, and I mentioned that I had just written this book. And he asked me, “Well, what is it about?” And I said, “Complex decision-making.” And he said, “Cheryl, I know something about complex decision-making. Why don’t you send it to me?” And I didn’t really think anything of it. I sent it to him. I figured he’s very busy. And he called me soon after, and he said, “I love this and I’d like to write the Foreword.”

He said, “I know just what it should say.” And he was just so wonderful. He said basically – and this isn’t really in the Foreword – but he said, “You know, a book like this is like taking a vitamin or those kind of shots that you get when you’re a kid so that you don’t get sick.” He said, “Because when you’re in the moment, and you are facing a high-stakes problem you need to already know what’s your system, how you are going to solve it. It is one of those things where you really need to know how you’re going to enter into it.”

And he gave me a couple of examples of things that came up during his tenure as Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and he said, “You know, I just wish I had had something like this where I already knew when I needed to make those decisions when I already had figured out what was going to be my system.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. Okay. Well, I’m excited. That really does a great way to tee this up because I think some people can say, “Okay, we have an acronym.” I know the Harvard Business Review in particular just likes acronyms. So there’s a little bit of extra sort of authority and credibility here that it delivers the goods. So, share with us, what is this AREA Method of problem-solving? Why did you create it and what are some of the key benefits there?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
So I didn’t initially call it The AREA Method. The genesis of the whole thing was my background was in investigative journalism, and for 10 years I was an editor and columnist at a business magazine called Barron’s. And I was one of the writers who ended up writing skeptical stories. You might call them Barron-ish company stories, stories that either question a company’s accounting, or maybe it questioned their strategy.

Now when those kinds of stories come out people get upset. The stock price can go down, regulators can halt a stock or intervene, and it doesn’t feel good to have people upset at you. It just doesn’t. And I really started thinking about, “Is there a way that I could have better confidence and conviction in my decisions?” Then I started thinking about it from really two vantage points.

One was, “How could I better understand the incentives and motivations of the sources who were talking to me?” And then the second point was there’s all this new research that says that we all are flawed thinkers, right? We come into the world and we are a series of our experiences and we have assumptions and judgments and biases, and thank goodness we do.

Can you imagine if we went into the supermarket and we stood there in the cereal aisle, and we just didn’t have those shortcuts and we didn’t know what kind of cereal we like, right? It’s actually sort of overwhelming. We would be overwhelmed by our choices.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, Cheryl, I’m so resonating with you because I’ve actually been frozen before, from more than five minutes, looking at paper towels to purchase, because it’s like, “This is a jumbo rolls which is the equivalent of 12 regular rolls but those rolls have different sizes than the others.” It’s like, “My gosh, am I going to have to compute the cost per square foot of paper towel rolls here before I can feel good about this decision?”

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
And it’s not only the cost, right? I read somewhere that the average supermarket in the United States has 40,000 items. So thank goodness for these mental shortcuts. The problem is, is when we’re solving a complex problem, they don’t go away. And so what that means is that we don’t really allow for new information or a new insight.

So, given my background in investigative journalism, I started to think about, “Well, could I put together a research process that just helps me have greater confidence and conviction in my decision in the way that it controls for and counteracts cognitive bias both in terms of the incentive and motives of others as well as my own shortcomings?”

And so that’s originally how I came up with the idea. I wanted to solve problems more holistically, and then I started teaching with it at Columbia, first at the graduate school of journalism, and then also at Columbia Business School, and I was surprised that it just seemed to work for everybody. And then individuals and companies began, from time to time, to ask me to do a project. They’ve heard about the method.

And about two summers ago, I had an emergency appendectomy and I was sitting around healing and I thought, “I need a project. I need something to do while I’m getting better.” And I thought, “Gee, I have so many people asking me about this system. I’m going to write it up into a book.” And so that’s how the book came about.

And in terms of calling it The AREA Method, as I was teaching it to my students, I realized they really want to have something that they can hold or that they can read. They need something that they actually have that’s outside of the classroom beyond me talking to them. And I thought, “Wouldn’t it be useful to have a textbook?”

And as I started to think about the textbook I said to myself, “I need a way to really explain this easily.” And I recognized that the logical progression of the steps fit into the word area, like an area on the map, or the area that we are in, and that seemed perfect to describe what a research and decision-making process is. It gave it a place. And so the letters A, R, E and A are the letters that guide the order of operations for the perspectives in the system.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So area, it’s like we’re orienting ourselves around something.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
That’s right. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like we’re going to draw a rectangle or a circle on it so we’ve got some geographic borders. And so, well, now I’m wondering, before we jump into the A-R-E-A, is there something to think about, first and foremost, about kind of what’s in or out of the scope? What’s inside our area or boundary of investigation versus outside of it.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Oh, absolutely. Look, open-ended research is not productive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
And it’s certainly not fun, right? You don’t want to just go into a completely open-ended project. What The AREA Method asks you to do is to basically invert decision-making, turn it on its head. Normally you come in and you say, “I’ve got a problem that I have to solve.” AREA says, “You know, turn it upside down and ask yourself, ‘What constitutes success for me uniquely?’ so that it’s uniquely solving for what you need it to solve.”

Once you identify what constitutes a good outcome you can then identify what I call your critical concepts. Those are the one, two or three things that actually get you to that good outcome. And, therefore, you are deeply and creatively investigating your picture of success, those few things that are your critical concepts, and that is a much more productive and fulfilling research process because you know going in what’s a good outcome and then you can solve for that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now this is reminding me a little bit of sort of hypothesis-driven thinking and MECE Issue Trees from consulting days.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Right. Mutually exclusive and comprehensibly exhaustive, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Could you walk us through then in terms of maybe we could run an example question?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Right. Well, let me explain what this system is first because I think people want to know what AREA is because we’ve mentioned it a few times. So the AREA process gets its name from the perspectives that it addresses: absolute, relative, exploration and exploitation, and analysis.

The first A, or absolute, is primary uninfluenced information from the source or sources at the center of your research and decision-making process. The R, relative, refers to perspectives of outsiders around the research subject. It’s secondary information or information that somehow filtered through sources connected to your subject. E, exploration and exploitation, I call them the twin engines of creativity because one is about expanding your research breadth and the other is about depth.

Exploration asks you to listen to other people’s perspectives by developing sources and interviewing. And then exploitation turns its focus inward on you as the decision-maker to examine how you process information, examining and challenging your own assumptions and judgment. And then the final A, analysis, synthesizes all the perspectives, processing and interpreting the information that you’ve collected so that you can come to conviction on your decision.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And so that sort of established the preview. So can we maybe walk through a particular investigation or problem using these four components?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
So one of the consulting projects that was just one of the most fulfilling projects that I’ve ever done, and somebody who I feature in the book, is a man named John Christopher who’s the founder of The Oda Foundation. It’s a basic healthcare charity that is located in Nepal. And John had been thinking about how to expand his charity. Think of it like how would you expand your business.

And a former student of mine, who now actually co-teaches with me at the Business School, sent John my textbook. So John came to the United States and I met him at the halls of the Business School, and we talked about the fact that he wanted to expand his charity. And then two days later the devastating earthquake hit Nepal.

And now he needed that plan yesterday, right? He, all of a sudden, needed a plan that would help a lot more people in a very volatile and uncertain and quickly changing environment given this natural disaster, and he had a structural advantage which was the world’s healthcare charities were going to be landing in Kathmandu and he was already there.

So how could we put together, very quickly, a plan that John could have confidence and conviction in where he could convince the world’s charities that they should vertically integrate and fund his plan? And then how could he also reach out to other funders to make sure that he had the resources necessary to go ahead and put the plan into action?

So this was really a high-stakes problem. So I began work with John and he is somebody who has had just incredible success and saved so many lives there, but he’d never really sat down and tried a system for solving problems. And so he initially thought he had three options. The first option would be to open a second single healthcare facility. He already had one but he could open one in a much busier area.

The second idea was that he could partner with the government and work within their healthcare network that they already have setup. But the government had a very shoddy reputation among the local population. The third option would be to use drones to drop and deliver medical test kits given the very treacherous terrain that Nepal has.

So these are very different options, and he didn’t want to rush to judgment. He just assumed that he was probably going to open that second clinic. But by actually taking his time and following the AREA Method, he realized that he would’ve bankrupted his charity had he opened the second clinic, and he figured out, by using the system, how he could actually work with the government and make his mistakes before he makes them.

That’s what I really call the exploitation and analysis part of the process that took him through a series of exercises that I learned from investigative journalism, from the intelligence community, from medicine that really sort of helped him to lay out how the plan could fail so that he could put safeguards in place and also have markers that would tell him that the plan might be going off course so that he could then shore it up before he even started it.

And in the very few short weeks that I worked on this project with him not only did he come to an unexpected outcome, he was able to reach out to a whole group of new funders because my process also helps give you sources of information to look at to help guide you in your research. So he was able to identify new potential donors. And by the time we finished the plan, not only did he fully fund it, he raised more money in those few weeks than he raised in the entire history of his organization.

Pete Mockaitis
Fantastic. Okay. Well, a phenomenal success. And so then could you dig into some detail then in terms of step-by-step what was the A, absolute phase of this investigation for him?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Okay. So, first, I have to put a disclaimer, right? Not all investigations end up in such a good outcome. Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Sure.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Sometimes you get good luck, sometimes you get dumb luck, sometimes you just get a bad outcome. So he really turned out to have the best of all possible worlds. So in the A, absolute phase of research, you identify the targets of your decision. In his case it was going to be Nepal because he was expanding his network there.

For somebody else, and this is unfortunately a very common problem among a lot of my friends, they’re trying to decide how to help their ageing parents to find a good living accommodation. If you’re solving a problem like that your targets in absolute might be the continuing care facilities that you’re looking at. So you might have, let’s say, seven of them even. Like John had one for Nepal. If you’re choosing between colleges, maybe that’s binary, maybe you have two, so that’s individual based on what you personally are solving, your absolute targets.

And then some of the steps…

Pete Mockaitis
When you say target, you mean that is the field of investigation.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
The ecosystem. Right, that’s the ecosystem. That’s exactly right. And then I have various steps in absolute that you would conduct research around. So I walk people through, “How would you actually examine the website for the entity that you’re looking at? How would you collect numbers from the entity that you are looking at?” Not all decisions need to be solved based on their cost profile, but almost every decision that you’re making has some numerical data that would better help you understand the situation.

For John, the numerical data was, “What was the population in the catchment area that he was looking at potentially opening a second clinic in?” It was also, “What are the different types of sicknesses that are incurred by the people in this area and with what kind of frequency?” So those were some of the kind of numbers that he collected.

For somebody that’s looking at college choices which these are what our seniors are doing this week. They all have to decide, by early May, which college they’re accepting. If they’re evaluating their targets, let’s say they’re choosing between Johns Hopkins and Pitt, they might want to go onto the websites for both of those colleges and look at the fact books on both John Hopkins and Pitt’s site and see, “Well, what’s the student-teacher ratio? How big are my classes going to be?”

They also might look at, let’s say they’re pre-med, “What percentage of pre-med majors actually make it through the major? And what percentage of the students from that school that apply to medical school that actually get in?” These are actually important numbers to be thinking about whether or not these are successful options for you and help you better understand the target that you’re looking at.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. And so you’re saying with the three key things that’s kind of where this comes into play right now in terms of, “If you wanted to go to med school then that’d be a key thing and you’d want to go ahead and get the number. If you wanted to have the time of your life being enriched by faculty who really care, you might look toward the other numbers.” But you’re saying, “Go ahead and see the extent to which you can find a quantitative measure of the thing that matters to you.”

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Yeah. Look, one of the things I always tell my students is have evidence behind your assertion. Don’t guess. There’s no reason for you to guess. You’re talking about an important and uncertain future – yours. Right? So don’t leave it to assertion. In fact, I just posted a blogpost on my website AreaMethod.com and I also posted it on Medium – How High School Seniors Can Make Their Big College Decision Better, because this is something just a very high-stakes decision not only to the individual involved but also to his or her family, or whoever is really helping to pay for this education.

You’ve got certain things that you want to solve for. Think about those things carefully. Identify what constitutes success for you and, therefore, your critical concepts, those one, two or three things that really matter in the outcome, and then don’t leave it to guess work. There are definitely some ways that you can work with and work through ambiguity, right?

So, in the R phase of AREA, just continuing with, for instance, the college example, and I can also talk about John or other cases if you’d like, in the R phase you’re in relative. So this is the next concentric circle of information and they’re somehow related to your target.

So if you’re choosing a college, maybe you want to go on College Confidential and see what people say about the school. Or maybe you want to go on Rate My Professor and see what they say about the professors. Or maybe you want to check out US News & World Report and see how high the college is or ranked in the areas that you are most interested in.

For John, solving for The Oda Foundation’s expansion plan, his R, relative research, included not only a literature review of news articles that told him about what kinds of rapid expansions worked in emerging economies that had natural disasters, but it also allowed him to research other charities that worked either in basic healthcare in natural disasters, or other charities that worked in Nepal and learn from their experiences.

Again, with that idea, keeping in mind that not only are you gaining more information but maybe you can make your mistakes before you make them by collecting this information and sitting in the perspectives of other people so that you understand what they felt and they thought their incentives and motivations as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Cheryl, I love this so much. I’m thinking as well about kind of career decisions, like that’s a hot topic. It’s like, “Oh, should I change jobs right now?” And you shouldn’t just take the absolute word of the place you’re looking at but maybe also, I recommend folks reach out to former employees who could speak freely about their experience at that company and then you’ve got some of that relative outside perspective.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Well, Pete, you’re absolutely right. The book actually follows four examples. It follows the case of John that we’ve talked about, it follows a high school senior who’s choosing between two very different college options, it follows the story of Bill who is thinking about a living accommodation for his ageing parents, and the fourth one is Claudia. She’s an advertising executive, the field has been really disintermediated by technology and the web and is quickly changing. And she realizes that she’s just not up for the chance.

And so she’s now trying to come up with a new career, and she’s choosing between two very different pathways – computer programming or nursing. And so that’s exactly right, in her R, relative phase, she read up on, “How good are these coding schools? What happens with the job placement? Are those job placements’ statistics reliable? Is there any way to understand when they say that they placed a lot of people? Do they place them in the field or are they placing them anywhere and some of them are actually ending up waitressing? These are important issues.

She also wanted to figure out, “What’s the cost profile of nursing school versus computer coding?” It looks like computer coding, a lot of these boot camps you can get in there and they’re – what – three-month courses and you re-trained? Well, not so fast. In her area R, relative phase of research, she recognized that some of them had potentially up to 100 hours of pre-work. Just shows you, don’t go on assumption not as advertised, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Then in the E, exploration phase, that’s where you get beyond documents and now you’re developing sources and interviewing people. And the reason why you do that is there’s nothing like a good conversation as you know, right? There’s nothing like having a chance to put your questions to somebody and having them help you to better understand your situation.

So there I go through what I consider the interview formula: GP + GQ = IQ. Good prospects (the people you’re going to interview) plus great questions (what you’re going to ask them) equal your interview quality. And then I walk you through, in a very detailed way, how to identify those good prospects, what constitutes a great question, and then also how do you conduct the actual interview, what are you looking for.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, Cheryl, I want to know so much. I guess we’ve got to go by the book, but can you give us maybe a pro tip or two in terms of finding great people or asking a great question?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Well, again, this is going to be very individual because, just as we talked about open-ended research is not fulfilling, so it’s got to be personalized. The more that you really work on honing in on your critical concepts and refining them as you go through the steps of AREA the more you’re going to know about what types of people are really going to be able to give you the information that you either can’t find in documents or that you want to have more context or color on, and it will also help you to be able to define your great questions.

So I do go through what are the different categories of questions and how is it that you want to phrase them in thinking about really what kind of answers do you need. I think that that’s imperative. You don’t write a question unless you say to yourself, “What would I do if I had the answer to that?” Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Absolutely. And it’s not just a backgrounder, it’s like it has the potential to be game-changing positive.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
That’s right. It’s got to be actionable information, that’s what we’re looking for. In exploitation, I think I mentioned we’re now focusing on you as the decision-maker. All along, because AREA is a perspective-taking process, you’re inhabiting based on the source of that information so that you understand other people’s incentives and motives, and what you get is a two for one. It actually acts as a mirror and it says, “Okay, what do I think and feel about that?” And that teases out some of your own biases and assumptions.

And then, in exploitation, you’re actually sitting down and doing these group of exercises that I was telling you about where you’re comparing your evidence against your hypothesis because the most likely hypothesis is not the one with the most confirming data. You don’t care if you’ve got lots of confirming data for a hypothesis if you have one insurmountable hurdle, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
So the most likely hypothesis is actually the one with the least disconfirming data. And this, I always find, this chapter, or this sequence of exercises, this is not rocket science but it’s game-changing. I find year after year of my students, or my consulting clients who I work with, they say that this is one of these things that just absolutely changes the way they understand their information and their analyses, and sometimes it drives you back into the process because that’s what a good research process needs to be – a feedback loop. And that is often for people, a point where they understand, “I need to re-enter something from earlier to better understand something. That’s the point where John recognized he would’ve bankrupt his charity if he had opened the second clinic.

And then the final A, analysis, puts it all back together. I talk about thinking about solvability. Some problems are just not solvable. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do them. Some things in life are a leap of faith, and you might want to take that leap. But some things turn out to be solvable in ways that you never would’ve imagined by thinking creatively.

And so that chapter helps you think about that and also helps you think about, “Okay, so you’re getting close to making your decision. How could it fail?” And I find that that’s a very important step that is not necessarily automatic or logical or intuitive for people. And yet I think that it really can put in place these levers, these safeguards that I mentioned before, so that you know what signs of decay or failure look like, and you can also setup safeguards so that, hopefully, that doesn’t occur. And then you can come to conviction.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. And so when you talk about the creativity pieces, could you share with us maybe a provocation or bit that you use to spark some extra ideas or considerations?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Well, I think these exercises that I was talking about in exploitation really do that. They’re very creative. I’ll tell you one that is one of these things. Every year my students feel sort to complain about it, and then they do it and they say, “Wow, that really turned out to be something I didn’t expect.” And that’s visual mapping. So much of our brain actually goes to our vision, and we use phrases all the time, “Do you see what I mean?” for instance, right?

And sometimes taking your information and just actually organizing it pictorially makes a huge difference. It doesn’t matter if it’s a table or a chart or if it’s some other way that you like creatively to put things together, but sometimes a visual depiction of the problem really does change your understanding of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Got it. Thank you. And so then the conviction, I imagine that just comes from, “By golly, you know you did a very thorough job and so you can feel great about it.” Or is there more to say about that?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
I think there’s more to say about that because it’s not just that you’ve done a thorough job. Although I think that’s a very big part of it. The other thing that you’re doing with the AREA Method is I recommend that everybody keep an AREA journal. I just keep an electronic journal. I put the date in each time I make a new entry. I put my decision problem at the top of it and I am constantly filling it with questions and then peppering it in with answers as I have them but I never raise the questions.

And so what you end up with is a lovely audit trail. And that audit trail prevents you from having an evolving hypothesis so that you knew what you were originally solving or what you were thinking. It also helps you with being able to have somebody else replicate your work with, say, you’re at a company and you’re solving a problem in a particular way and it worked really well. Somebody else could follow the same pathway at your job so that when a similar problem or an adjacent problem comes up, they can see and learn and benefit, and your organization can learn.

And then the other thing it does that I really like is it creates the journal of you as a decision-maker. So the more decisions you make you end up learning a lot about yourself. And I think, in general, the fact that AREA is a perspective-taking process, it’s really about mindfulness and awareness and building empathy. But so, too, does being able to keep a record allow you to continually improve what you’re doing so that you are learning and growing as a human being.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yes. Oh, Cheryl, this is exciting stuff and I think it’s really – I don’t know if dense is the word – but I’d say rich, like it feels like you could mine this territory for a lifetime in terms of getting better and better at these stages discretely and in aggregate.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Well, I think that’s right. And we all want that opportunity in our life, right? We want to know that we can consistently grow. And I think a good research process has to be agile and flexible and repeatable. And let me speak to that point for one minute because there’s really four updates to the research and pedagogy related to decision-making that I think AREA provides people with.

And the first one is that it recognizes that research is a fundamental part of decision-making. The second is that it solves for the tricky problem of the mental myopia of the assumption bias and judgment through its construction as a perspective-taking process. The third we haven’t really talked about. We did talk about the fourth which is a feedback loop.

But the third is that it addresses this critical component of timing head on so that you have calculated and directed reflections that promote insight and you slow down to speed up the efficacy of your work. And I call those pauses, these strategic stops throughout the process, I call them cheetah pauses. And the reason why the cheetah is that the cheetah’s prodigious hunting skills is not its ability to accelerate like a race car. It’s actually the fact that in a single stride it can decelerate by 9 miles an hour. And that, in hunting, is more important than being able to accelerate like a race car.

And just like the cheetah is able to make these tight turns and have something that is very maneuverable and something that is very agile, a good decision-making process that’s exactly what we need: agility, flexibility, maneuverability.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And we talked about the slowing down. That’s one thing I thought about here is that this sounds good and thorough and I think most people, for most decisions or investigations, don’t go into this level of detail. If you had to take a wild stab at just how much time, in terms of hours of investigation, reaching a decision with confidence and conviction might take, what would you put on that?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
So there’s something called the planning fallacy. It’s one of the major cognitive biases that so many of us are prey to, and you just hit on it, “How much time would it take?” Like the planning fallacy is that we have a very hard time actually accurately depicting how much time these kind of projects take or any big project takes.
So what I say to people throughout the book is, “Read the whole book. It’s short.” It’s 200 pages and that’s on purpose. These books like thinking fast and slow, they’re like 400 pages. It takes us a long time and we all have busy lives. So it’s 200 pages and it’s filled with worksheets so that you read it through once and then if you want to do the whole process – terrific. But if you don’t, pick and choose what resonates with you.

Anything that you do that’s new to you will add some rigor to your decision-making. And recognize that it’s only really when we test ourselves and get out of our comfort zone that we really get to learn something. So maybe you do more than one thing, maybe you do two. But if you’re choosing a new job, to come back to the example that you are talking about, you first want to invert the problem. What constitutes success? What are you looking for? Are you looking for a new intellectual challenge? Are you looking for greater flexibility so you got more time with the family? Are you looking for something that is going to open up the possibility that you can work with a greater diversity of people?

There’s a lot of different ways that you might be answering the questions. So the first thing is to figure out what constitutes success for you, and then to deeply and creatively investigate those things. And using the AREA Method you might pick a couple of absolute targets that you want to look at that answer the questions that your critical concepts raised.

And then you might want to, I would certainly recommend you do some of the document-based research both from the absolute target and pick or choose one or two of the exercises in the relative phase, and I wouldn’t miss exploration where you get a chance to actually talk to people in those fields, maybe people that currently work at those companies that you’re looking at or that have previously worked at those companies. Maybe you talk to somebody at the industry association that oversees all of the companies in that area so you can get an idea, “Is this a growing field, a shrinking field? What skills are highly valued?”

One of the things that Claudia recognized when she was looking at nursing, the field of nursing has really changed. There are now many different types of degrees that a nurse can get, and that means that it’s a field with increasing opportunity. The initial entry to nursing is the same for everybody so she doesn’t have to decide.

But what she found out for computer programming is you’ve got to pick a language upfront. So it’s path-dependent at the outset. That’s entirely different. If you’ve never done computer programming, how do you know which language you want to use? And how do you know that you’re not picking the BlackBerry versus the iPhone? These are important issues.

Pete Mockaitis
So good. So good. Cheryl, tell me, is there anything else you want to make sure you mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
I do want to mention this idea about learning about yourself as the decision-maker because when I was writing the book I was really talking about, “How do you go through a decision-making process?” But when my book came out last week I recently decided to create an app, and I’ll explain why in a minute. But if you go to my website AreaMethod.com and you click the big orange button that says, “Problem Solved Make Your Big Decision Better” you can actually take a quiz that will teach you your problem-solver profile.

And the reason why this is interesting is, first, we are different kinds of decision-makers in different situations. So, even if you’re faced with the same problem, you might solve it differently in a different environment or with a different group of people or at a different juncture in your life. But, basically, going through these types of questions can teach you overall how you do make decisions, what matters to you.

And then I give you your problem-solver profile which tells you a little bit about the kind of problem-solver you are, a little bit about a historical problem-solver who solved problems in a similar way, and then it goes through your strength as a decision-maker and your potential blind spots. And, again, this comes back to this idea of mindfulness and awareness, and it teaches you a little bit about the types of cognitive biases that you might be prone to based on your decision-making.

And then I’m only on version 1.0 right now, but then you can actually use your profile to begin to solve your own high-stakes problem. Over time I will develop a version 2.0 which will have more interactive features. But if you go ahead and use this, fill out the evaluation on the end, let me know what you think and let me know what else you’d like to see.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s excellent. Thank you. We’ll do. So, now, could you share with us a favorite study, a piece of research that you find yourself siding or thinking about often?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Well, this research tell us that we actually make 40,000 decisions a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, that’s wild.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
That’s overwhelming. That is everything from what side of the bed to get out of, to what late-night snack we’re going to have, and then what time we’re going to have that snack, how big is that snack going to be, and so on. And that really sort of stays with me because it shows us that we really need, as we talked at the outset, these biases and these assumptions and judgments. They’re just a coping mechanism.

But it really does mean that when we’re in a conversation that the perspective-taking becomes so important. And that is why I think the AREA Method has changed my thinking so much. It really has become an operating system for really how I interact with the world because I know that I am coming with my own lens.

And in order to be able to listen to somebody else I really do need to try to actively engage with their perspective to understand their incentives and motivations, and that can enable me to really solve problems more holistically because you’re rarely solving a problem that only impacts you. There are, generally, other stakeholders and generally their feelings and their incentives and their motivations matter in your ability to be successful.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that helps you flourish?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
So one of the exercises in exploitation that I use a lot is very simple and it dates back to Benjamin Franklin. He came up with it when he was writing a letter to a friend who had to solve a problem. I don’t know what he called it. I call it the pro-con analysis. It’s very simple.

You basically have a piece of paper, or a Word document on your screen, and you write down all the reasons on one side of the paper for why you want, or why you should make a particular decision. But then here’s the trick, and people don’t often do this. On the other side it’s not really why you shouldn’t make the decision. It’s addressing those positives and the negatives.

And if you really sit down and do that, you really can tease out a lot of things that you just thought you were keeping jumbled in your head but actually are much more clear when you look at them after having written them down. And I find that it helps me have greater confidence in how to move forward at times so that I am considering the downside, and so that I’m really evaluating my options in a way that applies at least a little bit of rigor if I just do a step like that. That’s one of the exercises I really like that everybody can do.

And just one more thing on that. The idea of The AREA Method is that it’s got to be accessible to everybody. It doesn’t matter what phase of life you’re in. It really doesn’t matter if you’re a high school student or if you’re a senior citizen, we all grow up to be decision-makers and yet, somehow, there’s no well-established way to make them. But what else do you think we do more frequently that has higher stakes than make our choices. And so if we could ever truly master decision-making, I think maybe we just all get along a little bit better and we could all live happier lives.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you maybe quickly clarify. You said the con is the negative of the pro. Could you give us a quick example?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
So let’s say you are thinking about Claudia’s decision about the job, right? So let’s say you are trying to decide. One of the pros might be that the world of computer programming is new and exciting and it seems to be quickly growing. So if you’re specifically addressing that, a new and exciting and quickly-growing field, one, means that’s the pro, right? Now, if you put that in the con, well, quickly-changing could mean that the landscape is shifting a lot.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Got you.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Right? That’s a totally different way to understand the upside. So, now, you say to yourself, “Okay, if I understand that the con of fast-growing means that it could also be unstable. What do I want to think about unstable? What could be unstable?” And then maybe you come back to what I mentioned before which is, “Am I choosing the language that’s the iPhone or the BlackBerry?” Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes. Understood. So it’s not a general con of the decision as a whole, it is a con of that pro and that can make all the difference in terms of a pro-con list. Thank you.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
That’s right. If you just make your list of pros and cons, I think it’s a less rigorous process.

Pete Mockaitis
Agreed.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
So everything you put on the positive side of the ledger you also want to say, “What’s the negative of that particular component?” And each thing has to be addressed.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And is there a particular articulation of some of your teaching, your message here that seems to note-worthily resonate or get folks taking notes, nodding their heads in agreement?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Yeah. Look, I would say at its heart the AREA process of perspective-taking is really meant to help you check your ego. It enables you to better judge the incentives of others, as we mentioned, and to explore a situation more objectively. And in so doing, it builds self-awareness and empathy. And as AREA becomes second nature, it can really be part of the frame that you bring to the world around you, and in so doing it may allow you to live your life more mindfully and enable you to take advantage of your ideas. Because with the right framework, the right approach to decision-making, the right process, you can turn good ideas into great thinking.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Yeah. Look, I would say that there’s no greater sort of agency that you can have over your life than the ability that you have to make your own decisions. That’s really the only thing we can control in our entire life are the decisions that we make. And so if you could have a system and you could get a little better at decision-making, as I was saying before, that can really allow you to lead a happier life.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Well, Cheryl, this has been so much fun. Thank you. Good luck. I’m looking forward to getting the book and putting this into action.

Cheryl Strauss Einhorn
Terrific. I really appreciate it. And if anybody, if they go and they read Problem Solved and they want to reach out to me, go to my website AreaMethod.com and you’ll see how to connect with me there. Thank you so much for this.

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