top of page

How to avoid FOBO

Today's Blog (#51) is how to make a good choice when confronted by lots of appealing and sensible options. We often think about having loads of choice as a privilege, but one phenomenon of having too much choice is FOBO - the fear of better options i.e. the idea that it's too much pressure to choose now, as you might experience regret later. FOBO can paralyse decision-making. I hope today provides a system for you to get to a great decision from many choices.

The Anatomy of a decision

Over the series we have covered i) choosing what to focus on, ii) gathering information and iii) generating choices. Making the decision is where all your biases will start asserting themselves.

I have found, that when faced with too much choice, looming deadlines and external pressure, my biases push me towards the safest sounding option. I and you need to have a system that helps us resist that urge! In the long run, I believe that taking the safest sounding option is a poor way to make decisions.

How are we going to decide?

There are endless ways to make a decision, but the key contours are below:

1) Is it a group or an individual decision?

I am convinced that whether a group or individual makes the final decision, a group of 3-5 people should be able to see all the evidence and provide their perspective. Sensible people can look at the same evidence and come up with different conclusions. They might weigh factors differently, have different risk tolerance, and have had different experiences which will be valuable to the process.

2) If a group decision, the two main ways of deciding are unanimous or majority decisions. (I'm still researching this, do you have a strong opinion on when one is better than the other?).

3) If by majority, there needs to be an understanding that people are allowed to disagree with the outcome, but are still bound by it, and must commit to its execution.

How to whittle down options

There are often too many choices at the start so how do we get down to a list to do some real work on?

1) Exclusions

Exclude anything that does not meet your requirements or strong preferences. Add strong preferences until the list decreases to a number which you can do a deeper dive on.

2) Features and ranking

The work of Daniel Kahneman in Thinking Fast and Slow, suggested that in many situations, experts using simple criteria and then sense checking the results is an effective way to make complex decisions. Their research also supported a simple score card approach. Pick 6 features and assess each feature for each (on a 1-5 scale). Once you have done that, you can either add, or weight and then add each feature to create a combined score. That score becomes your way to create initial rankings. At this stage it is worth sense-checking - is there any part of the process that might have resulted in a skewed outcome?

The final choice

Now, a decision needs to be made. We have been systematic with choosing which problem we are working on, researching it, generating choices and ranking the ones that meet certain criteria. It is at this point that analysis paralysis (a future blog) rears its head. Often deadlines ensure that urgent decisions are made quickly, but it's normally the important but not urgent stuff where delays becomes an issue. Examples are new business lines, improving processes or upgrading technology that seem to suffer from the slowest decision-making.

I think the best way to overcome analysis paralysis is to set you or the broader decision-making group a reasonable deadline. If you want to up the commitment even more, you can make yourself publicly accountable to that deadline. This ensures that all the cognitive load of making a decision, is offset by an opposing load of letting yourself or others down.

I think presenting the 2 to 3 top choices, your recommendation, plus your process is a transparent way to present the information, so that those you trust with the decision can see any gaps or misjudgments. There might need to be a tiny bit of back and forth but then conclude with a decision and move to execution.

So what?

How is this all relevant to decision-making? Here are three take-aways I want to leave you with before we pick it up next week:

1) We find choices really hard to make, so being systematic about it, will help reduce FOBO.

2) Having people you trust to make or help you make the decision is an invaluable resource. Transparent and systematic processes are helpful when trying to explain your processes to other people and you can benefit from their different perspectives.

3) Trying to decide on 30 different options is prone to error. Better to eliminate some choices that don't meet your strong preferences and then use a score card to help you rank options.

Thank you for joining. Next week - 'From decision to action'. Don't forget to sign up to the subscription list.

Other blogs in the 'Anatomy of a decision series'


bottom of page