April 13, 2024

At the end of January earlier this year, my wife and I as well as my colleagues in Ukraine had to make some important decisions. Were we going to stay in Ukraine? Our embassies were warning us about an impending invasion from Russia and encouraging us to leave. If we stayed, what would be sufficient reason to leave in the future? If we left, where would we travel to? Bertha and I had tickets to leave Ukraine on February 20 for some training we had planned many months ago. Should we wait until then or change our travel plans so as to leave earlier?

Missionaries make life-altering decisions

Cross-cultural workers like ourselves have made many life-changing decisions over the course of our missionary career. Our initial decision to join a mission organization had significant and long-lasting consequences for ourselves, our families and our sending church.

The decision we made to transfer from the Philippines to Russia in 1998 was just as major a decision. My wife and I struggled for a couple of years trying to discern whether we should leave the Philippines, when would be the right time to do so, and where we would move to. The decision we finally made meant we were going to have to learn a very different language and culture. Our children’s future education was going to be impacted in a big way since we would not have a MK school in Far East Russia.

Our decision almost 10 years later to accept the invitation to head up our mission’s training department and move to Ukraine had similar far-reaching consequences.

Now we are faced with the decision of where our future ministry will be based, in light of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine.

A desire to choose wisely

We don’t want to make bad decisions in situations like these. As human beings, we do not have the ability to predict the future. But given what we know, we want to make a decision that will allow us to be faithful to God’s calling on our lives. We want to make a choice that will result in greater fruitfulness for the kingdom of God. Similarly, we do not want our decision to put our families into needless danger and stressful circumstances. We believe in God’s sovereignty and his gracious purposes toward those whom he has called (Romans 8:28-30). This faith does give us confidence that God can and does redeem unwise decisions. But nevertheless we want to carefully consider the information we have before us and choose wisely.

Mission leaders feel this pressure to make wise decisions even more acutely. The responsibility of making decisions that impact the families of our friends and colleagues can be a heavy burden. A few times in my career, I have witnessed first-hand the huge impact that a decision to close a field can have on multiple missionary families, national workers and churches.

Training in decision-making

But little of our pre-field training as missionaries equips us to make good decisions, particularly not decisions that involve others. I remember reading the first edition of Garry Friesen’s Decision Making and the Will of God in 1981. I devoured it, finding it so helpful in making personal decisions. But other than that, most of what I have learned about decision-making, particularly decision-making as a leader has been learned “on the job.” Unfortunately, that has also meant that I have learned by making many not-so-good decisions.

That is why I would like to recommend Decisive: How to make better choices in life and work by Chip and Dan Heath. It is not a new book. It was published in 2013. But it is new to me, and I wish I had read it many years ago.

The Heath brothers identify four villains of decision-making in their first chapter. Then they give a way to address each of their villains. They do so by providing a simple acronym to help us remember their recommended decision-making framework. The WRAP framework includes the following four steps:

  • Widen your options
  • Reality-test your assumptions
  • Attain distance before deciding
  • Prepare to be wrong

I am going to just highlight a few suggestions under each of these.

Widen your options

Mission: To break out of a narrow frame and expand the set of options you consider

Chip & Dan Heath, Decisive Workbook, p. 4.

An enemy of good decision-making is overlooking options. So, the first recommendation the authors give is to expand the list of options that you are considering. Be wary of “whether or not” decisions that only require a “yes” or a “no”. Should we return to Ukraine or not? We have been trying to add other options to the mix. What other countries should we consider as a base for our training ministry? Sometimes we can transcend the “either/or” dilemma by finding a solution that allows us to incorporate the best of the strengths of both.

The Heath brothers also challenge us to consider the cost of the lost opportunity to do something else. Rather than just thinking about whether or not we should purchase something, we should consider what else we could purchase with that same amount of money. Which purchase is a higher priority for us? The same would be true about a commitment of time to a certain task or ministry. What other ways could we allocate that time? Which of these options would give us greater satisfaction and be a better fit for our gifting and calling?

Reality-test your assumptions

The mission: To fight the confirmation bias and ensure that, when you are assessing your options, you are gathering information that you can trust.

Chip & Dan Heath, Decisive Workbook, p. 9.

Chip and Dan Heath say that the second enemy of good decision making is the habit called the “confirmation bias”. We tend to look for information which will confirm our initial impressions, rather than look for that which will counter that initial belief. For example, we tend to read news reports from those media outlets that support our political views. We ask for advice from our closest friends, and particularly those who are known to be encouraging and supportive.

One way of fighting this tendency is to ask “disconfirming questions”. These are questions that intentionally try to elicit information that could point us to a different conclusion. For example, “What is the biggest problem you foresee with this course of action?” “If we failed in this new venture, what might be the reasons for that failure?” These are much better than “Do you think this is a good idea?”

Mining for conflict

A second suggestion the authors give to protect ourselves from the confirmation bias is to “spark constructive disagreement”. For readers of “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” by Patrick Lencioni, this is the same as “mining for conflict”. The best decisions are born out of spirited discussions by leadership groups where opposing opinions are freely offered and considered. See another blog post of mine on “Valuing Conflict“.

If in the process of airing different opinions about what to do next, the leadership body may split up into various factions. The authors of “Decisive” also have a recommendation to deal with that. Ask the question, “What would have to be true for each of these options to be the best possible choice?” Let the whole leadership body describe the various future scenarios that would make each option the wisest decision. Then as the future unfolds, we go with the decision that we all agreed best fit the scenario we are currently facing.

Attain distance before deciding

The mission: To resist the disrupting influence of short-term emotion ensure that you make a decision based on your core priorities

Chip & Dan Heath, Decisive Workbook, p. 14.

The third villain of decision-making is our emotions right in the moment of decision-making. These emotions can paralyze us so that we are unable to make a decision. Or we make a decision that is driven by a very short-term perspective.

Chip and Dan Heath recommend the 10/10/10 method of gaining perspective. Think about your decision from the perspective of three different future time periods. How will you feel about this decision ten minutes from now? Then, consider how you will feel about this decision in ten months. Finally, how about ten years from now? This simple tool helps us to gain a long-term perspective and reduce the impact of the emotions we are feeling right now.

The Heath brothers also talk about the importance of identifying and protecting your highest priority. Which life priority is the most important to you in this choice? This reminds me of my own life goal which I have developed and refined over the years. A mission organization like ours would consider the choice in light of our corporate mission statement. If we made a decision based only only upon this one statement, representing the heart of what we are all about, what would we choose?

Prepare to be wrong

The mission: To avoid being overconfident about the way our decisions will unfold and, instead, taking the opportunity to plan for both good and bad potential scenarios.

Chip & Dan Heath, Decisive Workbook, p. 18.

The fourth villain of decision-making is over-confidence in our ability to predict the future. Even experts are often terrible at predicting what will happen.

The odds of a meltdown are one in 10,000 years.

Vitali Sklyarov, minister of power and electrification in the Ukraine, two months before the Chernobyl accident. Cited in Decisive, p. 16.

To overcome this danger, Chip and Dan Heath recommend that we do a premortem for the decision. Imagine that a year from now, our decision was a disaster. What would have been the reasons for the failure?

The authors also talk about how helpful tripwires can be in decision-making. Our organization’s security officers developed a list of tripwires that would indicate that it was time to evacuate our personnel out of Ukraine. Since those tripwires were already in place, the decision to pull our missionaries out of the country on February 24 was not a difficult one to make. All the tripwires had been tripped.

Trust the process in decision-making

In the conclusion, the authors talk about the importance of following a process for making decisions and then trusting that process. We can not predict the success of every decision, since there are many things that we do not control. But we can do our best to follow a thorough process. By doing so, we will combat the pitfalls of decision-making. Thus, we can be confident enough to take the necessary risks that are part of every major decision.

Additional resources

If you register at heathbrothers.com, you can download a number of free resources. These resources include a workbook (including summaries of each chapter), the WRAP process on one page, and a 2-page document with six simple questions that help you to make better decisions. These are excellent tools that help us remember the truths in this book.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back To Top