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.