Be a STAR: A Guide to Good Decision-Making

June 13, 2022
Be a STAR: A Guide to Good Decision-Making

At the heart of our new book Decision Time is that navigating the whole arc of decision-making requires you to do four things well. We refer to these as four points of our ‘STAR’ model, and from our previous research looking at expert and novice decision-makers, it is in these found processes where we usually see the biggest difference between them.

  1. Stories and scenarios: Before we decide what to do, we must decide what situation we are dealing with and what our choices are. When making decisions we often come up with stories to explain the situation we are facing. But too often this can fall apart if either (a) we only identify a one–and-only plausible explanation or, (b) we identify a huge proliferation of too many models that it becomes unwieldy to know what to do. Like goldilocks, good decision-making requires thinking of just enough suitable stories to be open to the situation, while not so many that you become overwhelmed with what you could possibly be facing.
  2. Time mastery: As well as knowing what to decide, good decision-making involves knowing when to decide. When making big decisions it is often important to ask ourselves ‘Do I need to decide this now?’ If the answer is yes, then commit to a course of action. If it’s no, then seek more information to further clarify what you are dealing with. Often when making decisions, especially ones that make us uncomfortable, there is a tendency to either rush to action despite not really using the time to make sure we are doing the right thing or delaying action because of a fear of what will (or could) happen.
  3. Adaptation and assumptions: In a well-known study of plane accidents, the researchers found that the most common reason for the error was to “continue with the original plan of action in the face of cues that suggested changing the course of action.” They made the right decision for the situation they thought they were facing but had missed the signs that the situation had changed. When making decisions, we have to clarify and test the situation and challenge our assumptions. When we think things have changed, we must then make go backwards in the process to adapt our perception, rather than moving forward and assuming everything has stayed the same.
  4. Revision and resilience: While most books and theories stop once a decision is made – our own work has showed us that this is just the first stage of the process. Difficult decisions rarely result in immediate (and universal!) happiness, and we often face hardship. The real test is knowing when to revise a plan, and when to stick with it through the difficulties. This is what often separates really good decision-makers from others around them: they are able to be morally courageous and know when to abandon a path (even when it is unpopular and brings hardship) as well as when to continue on despite the protests of those around them.

So, how do you use the STAR model in your own decisions? Well, start by simply incorporating these first phases by thinking to yourself;

S. Stories. Have I really thought about what could be happening in this situation and identified a few, realistic, options I can work with?

T. Time. When do I have to make this decision? Am I rushing when I do not have to, or is there a finite window of opportunity I am going to miss?

A. Adaptation. Has the situation changed? Am I sure my assumptions are still true?

R. Revise. I made my decision and things are not going well. If it is the wrong decision, am I willing to change course? If it is the right decision, am I willing to work through the struggle?

If you can master the processes we outline, we guarantee you’ll be in great shape to take on big life-changing decisions.


- Neil Shortland and Laurence Alison, author of Decision Time

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