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AREA Method: David Brook’s ‘Choice Explosion’ Explains Why Good Decision-Making Is in Short Supply

David Brooks wrote an editorial this week for The New York Times about the “choice explosion” that’s taken place over the last 30 years. He writes that we have “more choices over more things than any other culture in human history” whether it is choosing between a diverse group of foods, news outlets, lifestyles and/or identities. His point: Making decisions well nowadays is incredibly difficult, “even for highly educated professional decision makers.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Brooks then goes on to cite some statistics that show that 83% of corporate mergers and acquisitions fail to increase shareholder value, and that 40% of senior-level hires don’t last beyond a year and a half in their new position. Result: We all need more help understanding the anatomy of decision-making.

“It’s incredibly important,” he writes, “to learn to decide well, to develop the techniques of self-distancing to counteract the flaws in our own mental machinery.”

That’s where the AREA Method comes in. While we don’t want to belabor which kind of butter to buy at the supermarket, we do want to know that for the handful of major decisions that come our way that we can find and follow a thoughtful process that can lead us to a good decision.

The AREA Method provides comfort and know-how to follow a logical progression through the steps of an investigative research process. And, it doesn’t try to counteract our mental shortcomings: It embraces them and says yes, we are flawed thinkers, bound by our prior experiences and mental constructs. AREA works with our imperfect system. It alters the organization in which we gather and analyze information so that we change the process –we change the path- and that enables us to reach an outcome that doesn’t just use our lens, but instead directs us to peer through the lenses of the other people who are also involved in our decision.

As Brooks concludes his editorial, he laments that “poorer Americans have fewer resources to master decision-making techniques, less social support to guide their decision-making and less of a safety net to catch them when they err.” To this I say it doesn’t have to be so. A good process is an equitable tool. It doesn’t take money or means. For at its heart there are two kinds of learning: Knowledge and skill. The AREA Method is a skill. I can explain it and teach it to you, and you can apply it to all kinds of complicated decisions.

Read David Brook’s column The Choice Explosion.

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