Make Decisions Just Like Gomer Pyle!

For you older readers of this blog, no need to identify the gentleman in the title, but for you younger folks, Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C. was a situation comedy TV show than ran on the CBS network from 1964 to 1969. It was about a fictional, good-natured, naive single man from Mayberry, North Carolina, who enlisted in the Marine Corps. Known for his literal approach to life, he served as the foil for an apoplectic USMC Sergeant named Carter who just couldn't believe that “Pyle” was as simpleminded as he seemed.

In one episode, Sergeant Carter enters a room where Gomer is slapping the edge of a table with the ends of his first two fingers, forefinger and middle and then looking at them. Characteristic of Carter, he yells at Gomer, “Pyle, what the are you doing?” Gomer responds simply, “I am making a decision, Sergeant Carter. My forefinger is yes and my middle finger is no; whichever hurts the most after I slap them on the table is the answer to my decision.”

Sounds funny, huh? Well, I have observed some of the odd ways we make decisions as people in this world and Gomer was not that unusual. Take, for example, the process my colleague, Chris Hutchinson, calls, What you don’t see won’t hurt you – right?” He describes drivers in New England who are also faced with difficult decisions – minimal signage, too many vehicles, and rotaries (roundabouts or traffic circles). The right-of-way - when entering a rotary - circling vehicles have the right of way. Some drivers have developed a technique to accomplish this difficult task. They simply allow their vehicle to slowly drift forward into the circling traffic while looking in the opposite direction at their chosen exit from the rotary. Eventually some poor soul comes to a screeching halt since a vehicle is blocking his or her forward progress. The entering vehicle then accelerates quickly toward their preferred exit. The key to success in this maneuver is not to make eye contact with any driver – they simply look where they are going and avoid seeing the pending disaster so it doesn’t occur. At least that’s the hope!
Fortunately, for you and me, there are several good alternatives. One of my most recent favorite books, 'Decisive,' written by the Heath Brothers, describes 4 simple, easy to remember techniques to use as templates when faced with difficult decisions. They contend that, “When it comes to making decisions, it’s clear that our brains are flawed instruments.”

First, we have to understand the problem. The authors point out the “four villains” when it comes to making decisions:

  1. We have too narrow of focus. We are guilty of “spotlight thinking.” We focus on the obvious and visible. We miss important facts outside our immediate view.
  2. We fall into confirmation bias. We develop a quick belief about something and then seek out information that confirms that belief.
  3. We get caught in short-term emotion. We are too emotionally connected to the decision and struggle with being appropriately detached.
  4. We are guilty of overconfidence. We assume that we know more than we actually do know and jump to conclusions, thinking we can accurately predict the future.

What I really like about this book is that it lays out a decision-making process that can be used in any situation. It is designed to counteract the influence of the four villains and consists of four steps:

  1. Widen your options.
  2. Reality-test your assumptions.
  3. Attain distance before deciding.
  4. Prepare to be wrong.

This WRAP process is sequential – you do the options in descending order – and the more you employ this process, the better you get at it. With enough practice, it becomes second-nature.

So, your choice – Gomer Pyle decision-making or a process that really works?