Storytelling For Decision Making

To begin, let me just say this is not my original idea, however, when I heard about it, I thought it was too good not to share. Occasionally, I like to listen to the 1A Podcast from National Public Radio. The program covers topics (sometimes very loosely) related to the First Amendment of the US Constitution:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Rest assured, this particular episode had nothing to do with politics, so read on without concern!

In early September, one of the podcasts featured author Steven Johnson, and his book: Farsighted: How We Make Decisions That Matter the Most. In the course of conversation, he compared people who make intuitive decisions with those that make methodical, fact-weighing, cost-counting decisions and which ones usually end up being the right ones. I think you can guess!

One of the methods for personal decision making, especially big, life-altering decisions, was to map out all potential consequences. He suggested not just listing pros and cons but also the improbable. He called it ‘the good, the bad and the weird’. Essentially, you should take all the possible scenarios that might arise and tell yourself a story for each one.

To illustrate: let’s say you’ve been offered a job in a different part of the country. The job sounds ideal, so you begin by listing all the good reasons for taking the job: better pay, more flexibility, a chance to do work you are passionate about. Your story might unfold with you finding career fulfillment, advancement and financial stability.

What are the negative aspects? You are leaving behind the known and the dear: your friends, your family and all the familiar things in your life. Perhaps the cost of living is higher so that bigger paycheck won’t go much farther than your current salary. Home prices might force you into a more modest living arrangement or into a long commute every day. If you have children, you might consider the school district and accessibility to parks and playgrounds. The climate might even be a consideration for good or for bad: snowy, cold winters versus sunshine and mild temperatures; desert heat or daily drizzle and fog. This story might see you driving an hour or more each way, on treacherous, snow-covered roads to a cramped house with a tiny yard where your lonely spouse and homesick children await you in misery.

After you’ve weighed those options, the next step according the author is to consider the weird: what possible strange circumstances might arise with the move OR alternatively how might things run amok in your current position? Is your neighborhood going to the dogs? Is your current boss soon to retire and the person slotted to take over a tyrant? Have you checked the stability and financial health of the new company? What if they went belly up after you made the move? Could you easily find new employment in your new location? What are the chances of a natural disaster striking either at home or the new city? What about crime and violence? Access to good health care and hospitals? What if you can’t find Heinz ketchup or TastyCakes? Seriously!

The careful decider will take all these factors and more into account when making a big move. Considering all the possible scenarios (telling ourselves a story) will help foresee a host of the possible consequences. This is a fascinating and practical use of the imagination!

If you’d like to hear the podcast, you can find it here.

38 thoughts on “Storytelling For Decision Making

    1. I tend to make gut decisions too. Unfortunately I’ve made so many bad ones that way, I think I need to change my ways! On the other hand, sometimes you can overthink a decision and you just need to do it! 😜

      Liked by 1 person

  1. “In the course of conversation, he compared people who make intuitive decisions with those that make methodical, fact-weighing, cost-counting decisions and which ones usually end up being the right ones. I think you can guess!”

    Then there are the interpretive deciders, who, I assume must use incredible imagination, as they had done in interpreting the amendment you had quoted. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Whatever I choose always ends up being wrong. It doesn’t matter if I make a quick decision or if I spend hours… days… weeks thinking it over. And usually I do think. Too much. Often to the point of an anxiety attack. I consider everything… every possible scenario (tons of worst-case scenarios), yet in the end, my decisions always seem to be wrong. I don’t trust myself at all anymore. But I don’t have anyone to make decisions for me either.

    Yesterday I couldn’t decide if I wanted hot or iced coffee. I got hot and before I made it home, I totally regretted that… and actually got mad at myself for making the wrong choice. It made me unreasonably sad. I am messed up!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well heaven knows I’d make some better decisions too! Unfortunately we have to continue to make them for good or for bad. If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice! (That’s a line from a Rush song) Lol! Anyway I think when things always seem to go wrong, it makes deciding seem futile. 😨

      Liked by 2 people

  3. The past is the best predictor of the future. I tend to go with my “gut” in making most decisions, but I find that my instincts are a result of past results remembered. Insert a touching-a-hot-stove analogy here. But, I think a vivid imagination is a plus when extrapolating possible outcomes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree. I think you develop intuition with time, so that ‘gut’ decisions improve with practice. I thought this was an exercise a writer could put his/her characters through at a pivotal part of a story. Thanks for your thoughts!


  4. A very nice post! Decisions are always hard to make, big or small. People usually make impulsive decisions only to regret later. I think you can afford to make impulsive decisions for smaller things but fot big ones, it is only fair to yourself that you weigh all the pros and cons and then decide. This way, if something goes wrong, at least you won’t feel guilty of not thinking it through and probably face the situation bravely. But on the whole, i think it also depends on the type of personality you are. Like some people are always impulsive, some do overthinking only to be thoroughly confused, some go by other peoples’ opinions and some can’t decide and put it off like forever. To each his own. Gut feeling is a good thing to go by but sometimes you can mistake it for what you want rather than what is advisable.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is definitely personality dependent. Although with experience, you can judge which way is best for you! And I think your intuition can be taught to evaluate better as you see what things have worked out and which ones have not!


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