BY MID 1838, CHARLES DARWIN WAS NEARING HIS THIRTIES and was single. Wanting to get married he was considering proposing to his cousin Emma Wedgwood, but like many of us, he too was a bit hesitant. He was worried about the impact that marriage and children can have on his blossoming scientific career.
As a solution, Darwin decided to follow Benjamin Franklin’s (an American scientist, writer, inventor, statesman, and diplomat) decision-making model. He took a piece of paper, made two columns, and filled them with the pros and cons of marriage.
After carrying out the activity, the method appears to have worked for him as beneath his assessment lists, Darwin wrote “It is intolerable to think of spending one’s whole life, like a nectar bee, working, working – only picture to yourself a nice soft wife on a sofa.” Ending his note, he scrawled, “Mary, Mary, Mary QED.”
Finally, in November 1838 he wrote in his journal “The day of days” that his proposal to Emma had been accepted; and they got married on 29 January 1839. Can we call it “Happy-Ending?”
In the mid of 1772, Benjamin Franklin received a letter from his close and dear friend the English chemist and scientist, Joseph Priestley. Like many of us, Priestley was torn between his current job as the minister of the famous Unitarian Mill Hill Chapel in England and a job offer in the hand of a lucrative position as the general assistant to the Earl of Shelburne.
Knowing Franklin’s penchant for self-improvement and lifelong quest for learning, Priestley wrote him a letter seeking his advice on the matter.
Rather than just dishing out advice on the issue, as the majority of us do, Franklin, at age 66, went a step further and wrote back a letter on September 1772 to Priestley sharing with him a decision-making mathematical model that he would use to make complex decisions.
In that letter, Franklin wrote that he couldn’t tell him what decision to take, since he didn’t have all the information needed about Priestley’s problem, but he could tell him about a process to decide, which he claimed to experience huge advantage in his life and which he described as moral or prudential algebra.
Benjamin Franklin wrote back to Priestley indicating that he couldn’t tell him what to do, since he didn’t have enough factual information about Priestley’s problem. However, he could advice Priestley on how to make his decision.
“My way is to divide half a sheet of paper by a line into two columns; writing over the one Pro and over the other Con. Then during three or four days’ consideration, I put down under the different heads short hints of the different motives, that at different time occur to me, for or against the measure. When I have thus got them altogether in one view, I endeavor to estimate their respective weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal, I strike them both out. If I judge some two reasons con equal to some three reasons pro, I strike out five; and thus proceeding, I find where the balance lies; and if after a day or two of further consideration, nothing new that is of importance occurs on either side, I come to a determination accordingly.” –Benjamin Franklin.
Let me simplify this for you! This blog presents a slightly modernized and modified version of Franklin’s process to suit today’s conditions.
So, if you have big decisions to make like:
Should I relocate to another city?
Should I take up a new job?
Should I buy a car?
Should I marry?
Should I have kids?
then you’re lucky to have reached this article.
Go ahead and read it till the end to become a better decider.
How to decide between two attractive and appealing options.
The Step-By-Step Process Layout.
First and foremost, take out a sheet of paper, a pen, or a pencil, and fasten your seatbelt as you’re about to begin your journey of decision-making.
Write the Pros and Cons.
Make two columns on paper. Title the left column as “Pros”, and the other column as “Cons.” In the left column, you write the benefits/advantages or all the pros, and on the right, the arguments or cons against it. You can call it a decisional balance sheet. Initially let all the pros and cons flow freely and jot them down as it appears on your thought horizon. Later on, if needed brainstorm more options and reasons. The key is taking enough time to reflect on the issue. Easy, isn’t it?
Visually Weighing the Two Sides.
Now scan the list and if visually you see that one column is longer than the other, then it simply means either the pro wins or the cons. But, if the two columns are pretty much the same length or you are not sure about the long list then go to the next step.
Assess the Importance of Each Listed Item.
“What’s get measured gets managed” is a widely used quote in the corporate world. So, how do you measure? One effective way is to quantify. Use a simple rating scale from 1 to 10 to rate your list items. Where 10 is extremely important, 5 would be moderately important and 1 is unimportant.
Judge the Probability of Each list Items.
In the next step try predicting the probability or possibility of the respective items (pros and cons) happening. Again, you assign numbers from 1 – 10, where if a pro or con is a certainty, you rate it 10. But, if it is certain to happen, rate it 5, and for example if a pro or con is likely to happen, you rate it 10, and if highly unlikely to happen; it rates a 1.
Calculate the Final Result.
Now let’s calculate. Multiply both the ratings for importance and probability. Use a calculator or can even create an excel sheet to calculate the numerical values. For example- A pro that is extremely important (10) but is unlikely to happen (1) results in a weight of 10. A con of moderate importance and also likely to be realized (5) will yield weight of 25.
Analyze and Eliminate:
Now, it’s time to simplify and arrive at a decision. You can use the same technique that Ben Franklin would use: he would delete or strike out the two items that are of the same weight. He would then continue by removing all items where one pro would be equal in weight of two cons, thus further eliminating three items. The key was to shorten the choices as much as possible and narrow down the list to the most compelling items.
Review, Reflect and Decide.
Once you have eliminated the items and shortened the list, time for a final review. Now, if one column is significantly longer than the other, you know what is the indication. And, if not then ask yourself some questions like:
What and how is the importance of the pros as compared with the importance of the cons?
What is the probability of pros compared to cons?
What are you ready to risk?
Which parameters or variables matter in the long run?
Can you see some patterns emerging?
Are the trade-offs worth considering?
If the decision you intend to take using this method is very important, then don’t rush through the process. Take your time, for not all your thoughts and information may be present and available. So, if possible, spread the entire process over the next few days.
“Great haste makes great waste.” Benjamin Franklin
Priestley also took his time and accepted the position and science never looked back, as It was Joseph Priestley who in 1774 discovered oxygen.
A Real-Life Example.
Here is an example of a decision matrix for deciding between your current job and a new job opportunity. You are in a state of confusion as to whether you should go for the new opportunity or not. Your final list might look like this:
After multiplying the important factor with the probability factor, and then adding those totals, you’re left with the final result. Your pros list in favour of new job totals 558 and the cons list totals 533. It seems like you’re taking up the new job. Congratulations!
Advantages and Benefits.
Our brain is amazing and fascinating. Various research now put the number of thoughts that an average person thinks per day is from 12,000 to 60,000. Basically, our mind loves to get lost in the tsunami of thoughts. Can you control and manage all of them? If yes, then again hearty congratulations!
But, in reality, it’s not humanely possible.
So, writing things down can be enormously enlightening. Writing things down and making lists offers great benefits. It frees up your mental capacity which enhances your ability for right thinking and decision-making. Plus, the visual clarity achieved also allows us to focus better.
Franklin wrote, “the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better”.
Also, writing down the pros and cons, you are forcing your brain to be aware of all the aspects: positive and negative of the decision you intend to take. This improves the probability to make good and right decisions. Last but not least, analyzing the pros and cons will help you to make better commitments.
This tool of Ben Franklin’s for decision-making is now known as the T-Chart, which is widely used to examine two opposing facets of any situation, condition, circumstance, or event. This decision-making tool is not only limited to career and business choices but is equally effective in almost all areas of daily life.
But what about when we do have big decisions to make in life?
Should I take this new job? Should we downsize our home or move near our grandkids? Should I marry? Should we have kids? Should I buy a new car?
Just assume you are undecided about buying a new car model. You have selected two models, but you are not sure which one is the right one and are also unsure of the right time. Use this technique and in the left column, list your reasons to wait and watch; on the right side, list your reasons to buy now. Go through the entire sequence and you’ll see yourself in a better position to take a call.
So, now you see the mathematical weighted-list technique by Benjamin Franklin was more than just a normal pros and cons list.
Are you at the cross-road staring at a dilemma and crucial decision to take, the one that can change your life, then go ahead and give this method a try? If you’re on the fence and need a fresh perspective, this method is worth trying. One of history’s timeless lessons.
Data and information are one thing but are only as good and useful as the decision-making process employed. Without a tool to reach the best decision possible, all the data available to you will be useless.
Understand: No decision-making process is full-proof and can have flaws. The same with this process, where biases and prejudices in our thinking can hamper the outcome, still, it’s always better to first use some relevant decision-making models.
This decision-making model is no guarantee for a perfect decision. Remember, there is no such thing called as a perfect decision. Every decision will have two sides, will have potential flaws, but creating value-based pros and cons list can help you in finding a useful and applicable alternative, not the perfect one. So, while expecting to make a perfect decision may be unrealistic, a better, more efficient process is possible.
“The only proven way to raise your odds of making a good decision is
to learn to use a good decision-making process—one that can get you the best solution with a minimal loss of time, energy, money, and composure.”
— John Hammond
But, in the end, despite all the number crunching, calculations and evaluations, if you are not satisfied with the results, then go with your gut feeling. Following your intuition. Trusting your gut. Call it what you will, listening to that inner voice can prove invaluable. Irrespective of the results you’ll not regret them later in life.
Waiting for you to comment below on your approach to decision-making in life. Also, stay connected and tuned for more on how to make better decisions.
Happy Decision Making.