I’m currently working on a book on decision mapping (and more generally, deliberative decision making), tentatively called Draw the Right Conclusion!. I’ll be periodically releasing draft chapters. First cab off the rank is the Introduction.
Comments and suggestions most welcome.
Here are the opening paragraphs:
In late 1772 Joseph Priestley was wrestling with a mundane problem.
Over a period of just a few years, Priestley had transformed himself from a little-known minister and teacher in towns of northern England into one of the most important scientists of his day. He had published the History and Present State of Electricity, the first compendium of scientific knowledge in this new field, and the dominant textbook for the next hundred years. His recent investigations had revealed one of the most profound aspects of life on earth: that plants make the air fit for us to breathe. This work earned him the Royal Society’s Copley Medal, the Nobel Prize of his day. Soon he was to isolate the substance that plants were providing, thereby playing a crucial role in the discovery of oxygen.
Yet the dilemma causing him so much anxiety was of a kind any of us might recognize. Should he move with his young family from Leeds to Wiltshire? He had been offered a kind of patronage by William Petty, the controversial Earl of Shelburne. Shelburne would house the Priestleys at his estate, Bowood, and provide Joseph with a laboratory and time for research. In return Joseph would be required to act as tutor to Shelburne’s sons and advisor to Shelburne himself. Priestley had to resolve a personal conundrum laced with unknowns and incommensurabilities. Would he be sufficiently free to pursue his intellectual passions? Would his experimentation continue to bear fruit in the new environment? Did he owe it to his family to accept the greater comfort and security attached to the new position?
Eventually Priestley turned for help to his friend and scientific colleague, the great American scientist and statesman Benjamin Franklin. Franklin replied in a letter which has become a classic in the theory of decision making:
My way is to divide half a sheet of paper by a line into two columns; writing over the one Pro, and over the other Con. Then, during three or four days consideration, I put down under the different heads short hints of the different motives, that at different times occur to me, for or against the measure. When I have thus got them all together in one view, I endeavor to estimate their respective weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal, I strike them both out. If I find a reason pro equal to some two reasons con, I strike out the three. If I judge some two reasons con, equal to three reasons pro, I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the balance lies; and if, after a day or two of further consideration, nothing new that is of importance occurs on either side, I come to a determination accordingly. And, though the weight of the reasons cannot be taken with the precision of algebraic quantities, yet when each is thus considered, separately and comparatively, and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better, and am less liable to make a rash step, and in fact I have found great advantage from this kind of equation…
Franklin called this method a “moral algebra”: a kind of calculation, but one suited to human affairs, where often the stakes are large, the alternatives many, the considerations diverse and uncertain, and where your choice will be a test and reflection of your character.
Such as whether to get married, and in particular whether to marry your cousin…
Nice start; I’m looking forward to the book.
I have two comments:
1. On page 10 you mention the three major kinds of decisions. You might want to move this up in the chapter to highlight the emphasis on deliberative decision making.
2. Also on page 10 — your comment about organizational “decision management” hit on something that I’ve been thinking about — the difference between a company’s espoused strategy and its de facto strategy. The gap is caused by the many decisions made by “middle management” and if there was a better decision management process the gap would (should) be smaller. Just a thought that you might want to play with.
Bill, thanks for those comments. Re decision management, if you haven’t already, you might want to have a look at the book of that name by Frank Yates.
I came across your site through a link on Peter Tillers’s recent blog post. I can offer a couple of small points and then indicate an area in the law of evidence where decision analysis is called for.
“dilemma”? (3rd para): I am one of those easily-irritated people mentioned by the COD as considering this usage incorrect. A “mundane problem” is not, at least to us, the same as a dilemma.
Have you accidentally omitted the word “not” in the second sentence of the penultimate paragraph? It looks as though you meant to say “… this book does not describe how to manipulate …”.
In law the topic of how to decide whether to exclude evidence that has been obtained improperly lends itself to “drawing” of some sort. Whether the diagram should take the form of what the Chief Justice of Canada has called a “decision tree” (although she didn’t draw it) in R v Grant  SCC 32 at para 86, or as another form of decision mapping, is unclear. The position may be simplified in law because of the importance of precedents in guiding subsequent decisions. Once a body of precedent is established, the task becomes not so much one of how to reach the result, as one of what the result should be. That is, a question of ends rather than of means. A different form of diagram can be made to assist in predicting results.
Some great stuff in the intro. Didn’t know that Franklin’s method was from a letter to Priestley and Darwin’s decision analysis is hilarious. “Better than a dog” indeed!
I agree with the discord between “mundane” and “dilemma” mentioned above, and I think it relates to deeper rhetorical issues that I’ll focus my feedback on.
First, let me capture the structure of the chapter, as I see it:
1. Vignette (teaser to capture interest)
2. Franklin’s Moral Algebra has six strengths that make it a tool for everyone
3. There are three reasons we’re not all using it
4. We need the features of decision mapping to overcome these limitations
5. This book is an overview & guide to decision mapping, as follows…
In this structure, I think that the connection to the rhetorical element of “pathos” (or, “who should read it, why will they care, and what’s in it for them”) is a bit scattered and takes too long to get.
For example, who should read it? Well, “all of us who have to make weighty decisions” according to the first two paragraphs of page 6 — but what those weighty decisions are, is left a bit superficial, and doesn’t allow us to identify ourselves easily. Some possible examples (other than the vignette) are gestured at in later paragraphs, like Afghanistan, Cuba, and sending your child to school. However, I think they’re not described strongly enough and linked closely enough to the initial paragraphs to let us identify ourselves easily as potential readers of the book.
Moving on to why will they care? Because Franklin’s method will probably work for us… although it needs augmenting (two paragraphs down)… and hardly anybody uses it (11 paragraphs further)… and it is actually decision mapping that will work for us (19 paragraphs further).
Lastly, I’m not sure that we are actually really told what’s in it for us. The overview section certainly tells us what we’ll get: knowledge of decision mapping. But why does that matter to us? I think the benefits are scattered throughout the preceding paragraphs. For example, decision mapping will make deliberation less chaotic, more explicit, easier to “weigh up”, etc. However, the fact that they are benefits is obscured a bit, because they form part of an argument about the pros and cons of Franklin’s moral algebra — at some distance from the description of the real topic of the book (decision mapping). And there is not really a strong “adding up” of the individual benefits into an overall reason to care for the book, such as “read it because you will become a better decision maker” (with all the glory and satisfaction that that implies).
As such, I would recommend a slight revised structure:
1. Darwin’s decision as vignette (it’s stronger and funnier than Priestley, and shorter so we get to pathos quicker)
2. Who this book is for: All of us facing weighty decisions, like these examples with people like you-the-potential-readers.
3. Why should we care? Because weighty decisions are difficult and full of traps for the unwary, but we can do better. (collecting together here the points on difficulties and how _decision mapping_ can help. Less emphasis on Franklin’s historical method)
4. What’s in it for the reader: we’ll show you how to improve as a decision maker, and give you some knowledge on why our methods work and what the limitations are — using the following structure of the book.
Hope this helps,
St Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) recommended this approach, about two hundred years earlier.
presumably other people used it before him