Leaders as Decision Architects

John Beshears and Francesca Gino

Updated Leadership Revolution (L-REV)


Mistakes happen. So is there a way to script better outcomes? In this HBR article, Harvard Business School’s John Beshears and Francesca Gino, explain that we can encourage good decision making by changing the environment in which people make decisions.

The Learning Upshot

After completing the work on this page, you will be able to:

  • Know the two modes by which humans process information and make decisions
  • Comprehend 5 steps for structuring work to encourage good decision making
  • Experiment with choice architecture to improve decisions

Read the Article

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Make It Actionable

Now it’s time to personalize it. Give this concept some momentum in the workplace and your own life by completing the following:

  1. Conduct a thought experiment using the 5 steps to encourage good decision making.
    • Step 1 – Understand How Decisions Are Made – Identify a human-centric problem at your workplace in need of a solution. Is it a System 1 or System 2 type decision?
    • Step 2 – Define the Problem – What human behavior is at the core of the problem? Is this problem narrowly defined? If not, how could you narrowly define it?
    • Step 3 – Diagnose the Underlying Causes – Is the problem caused by people’s failure to take action (lack of motivation)? Are people taking action but in a way that introduces systematic errors into the decision-making process? If yes, what cognitive bias (or biases) might be at play and how is it affecting the decision?
    • Step 4 – Design the Solution – Use one of the following three levers to create a solution:
      • Trigger System 1 thinking by introducing changes that arouse emotions, harness bias, or simplify the process
      • Engage System 2 thinking by using joint evaluations, creating opportunities for reflection, increasing accountability, and introducing reminders and planning prompts
      • Bypass both systems by setting defaults and building in automatic adjustments. Which lever did you choose and why? Would it be possible to implement the third lever which is recommended by the authors so that the desired outcome is implemented automatically?
    • Step 5 – Test the Solution – Determine if your solution will accomplish the objectives by completing these three tasks:
      • Identify a target outcome that is specific and measurable
      • Identify a range of possible solutions and then focus on one
      • Introduce the change in some areas of the organization (the “treatment group”) and not others (the “control group”)
  2. After you have completed this thought experiment, reflect on these questions:
    • How well did these 5 steps work for your situation?
    • What, if anything, would you do differently?
    • How easy or difficult was this challenge for you?
    • What did you discover about yourself?
    • What did you try that you are going to keep doing?
  3. Optional Bonus:
    • Implement each of the 5 steps and actualize this thought experiment at your workplace, and/or
    • Discover if you might be tricked by intuition by solving the three problems toward the end of the article.

Want More?

Dig deeper on this topic with the following resources:

Making Decisions

Choice Architecture

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