The decision tree: how to make informed, sound decisions?

A decision tree, especially in moments of doubt, can be an invaluable aid. In a world that offers so many options, making decisions is not always easy. Especially when certain choices involve stepping out of one’s comfort zone or time pressure. What to do when you have a problem with decision-making? Here is a proven method that should help. Below you will also find some alternative techniques worth considering.

Photo by Marcelo Chagas from Pexels

Decision tree: what is it?

The decision-making process can be illustrated using a popular model such as the decision tree mentioned earlier. This method, loved by many, allows us to present a particular problem in a graphical way. It allows us to analyze the problem in detail, taking into account possible solutions and their consequences, both positive and negative. The decision tree also provides an opportunity to reflect more deeply on the stated goals and values of making a particular choice.

This method solves the problem in making difficult decisions — especially those that involve a certain amount of risk. By using this type of model, the choice made should be fully informed and reasonable. A person who uses a decision tree can quickly predict the consequences of the actions taken. A decision tree works great especially when many different solutions may lead to the realization of a specific goal. The scheme created is very clear and readable.

The decision tree is an often used, great method to activate students. Moreover, it supports the process of making business decisions, which is why this model is also used by managers. This type of mind map can also be helpful in personal development, which is why decision trees are often used by coaches.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Decision tree: how to do it?

To use this method of decision making, first prepare a diagram of a decision tree. It should consist of a root, a trunk, and individual branches that point directly to the tops of the tree.

The general scheme of the decision tree should be as follows (in this case from the bottom):

  • trunk — the problem situation requiring a decision,
  • options of possible solutions,
  • the predictable positive effects of each alternative,
  • the foreseeable negative consequences of each alternative,
  • the goals and values for which you are considering making the decision.

List as many possible solutions that come to mind as possible. Only the most important goals and values should be placed at the crown of the tree. Remember to logically link each foreseeable outcome to them.

Decision tree: an example

To get a better understanding of exactly what the decision tree model is all about, it’s worth taking a look at a sample template that shows the different stages of decision making. They often have an inverted or very simplified form — consisting only of arrows and words, although the shape resembles a tree.

Decision tree sample — [Photo; T-kita at English Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons]

A problematic situation may be, for example, the choice of a university course. The goals of such a decision may include such elements as: increasing one’s chances of finding a well-paid, interesting and valuable job, broadening one’s horizons or developing one’s interests.

Examples of decisions may include choosing such majors as:

  • medicine,
  • sociology,
  • computer science,
  • tourism and recreation,
  • economics.

In the next section we list the positive consequences of each choice.

  • In the case of medicine, it may be, for example, the possibility of saving other people’s lives, high wages or job security.
  • The choice of sociology may be associated with the opportunity to broaden horizons and develop interpersonal skills.
  • When it comes to computer science, the positive effects of such a decision can certainly include high salaries, the opportunity to work in an international corporation and many ways of professional development. It is not without reason that this path is considered to be a very promising profession.
  • The choice of a major in tourism and recreation can be associated with such positive effects as ease of entry and completion of studies, as well as the opportunity to broaden one’s knowledge of the world.
  • If we decide to study economics, we will be able to anticipate that we will expand our knowledge of the financial world and learn how to invest and manage money.

The next step will be to isolate the potential negative effects.

  • If we choose sociology or tourism and recreation, it may be difficult for us to find a well-paid job that is compatible with our education.
  • If we choose medicine, it may be problematic to reconcile our personal and professional lives after graduation. Many people will find it difficult, time-consuming, stressful and expensive. You have to ask yourself whether medicine is really your passion and vocation.
  • If we decide to choose the economics, and we are still not completely convinced about it, on the side of possible negative effects we will write down, for example, boring classes and a large competition on the labor market for graduates of this direction.
  • On the other hand, the negative effect of choosing IT may be the need for constant further training after graduation.

After listing all the arguments for and against, you should carefully look at each of them, and then choose one of the considered majors. The final decision should depend on which goals and values we consider the most important, what in our professional life is most important to us and whether — if it is important to us — work should also be a passion for us.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

Other decision-making models

If we often do not know how to make decisions, it is worth using other methods, such as:

  1. Fish skeleton — this method requires the use of a board depicting a fish skeleton. The main problem should be written in the part corresponding to the head of the fish, and the key decision-making objectives should be formulated. On the large bones we put from 4 to 6 possible choices, and then on the small bones we write down the factors that may affect the making of each choice. Based on the information presented graphically, we choose the best decision.
  2. Associationogram — we write all the ideas we can think of to solve the problem on a diagram. We ask another person to do the same, e.g. a friend or partner, and then we swap cards and look for the best solution together. The associationogram should take the form of a radial diagram. The main word (problem) is the sun, while the rays represent the individual associations — ways of solving the problem.

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