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What to Do When the Pros vs. Cons List Doesn’t Help

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In our previous post, we explored Benjamin Franklin’s approach to making decisions in life, an approach that emphasizes the Pros and Cons of the option and urges you to weigh one against the other.

But what if, even after weighing the Pros and the Cons, you’re still not clear about whether you should take that job. What if, as this blog post proposes, you have two attractive options, two jobs you could see yourself in, and you’re not sure which one you should take.

The problem with the Pros and Cons approach, Brett and Kate McKay write over at The Art of Manliness blog, is that “[a] typical pro and con chart can be too vague. This is where a decision ‘balance sheet’ comes in. If you want to get really fancy, philosophers who study decision-making (yes, there is such a thing) call it a ‘multi-attribute optimization chart.’”

First, as with the Franklin approach, you make two columns.

However, instead of labeling one Pro and the other Con, you label “the first column ‘Element’ and the second column ‘Importance Factor.’ Next to those two columns, create as many columns as you have possible choices. Label these columns with the names of your choices. For example, ‘Job in Seattle’ and ‘Job in Phoenix.’”

Second, use the “Element” column to “list all the major elements that influence your decision,” such as “location, pay, benefits, job security, work hours, employment, etc.” Then, in the “Importance Factor” column, rank the importance of each element on a one to 10 scale.

The McKays explain, “For example, if the time your job will allow you to spend with your family is very important to you, give that element a nine. If being close to your family isn’t as important to you, then give it something like a four.”


“Put down the first number that comes to you; don’t overthink it.”

Third, “grade the choices in relation to each element.”

Again, the McKays explain it better than I can: “You’re now going to assign a number from one to 10 in relation to how each choice measures up to the elements you have listed. For example, if the job in Seattle offers an excellent health insurance plan, you would give it a nine. If the job in Phoenix would sometimes have you working 60-hour weeks, then you would give it something like a five for ‘work hours.’ Again, don’t think too much about it; just put down the first number that comes to your mind. These numbers go on the left side of your choice columns. Make sure you leave room on the right side of the column for another number.”

Fourth, “multiply the importance factor by the grades for each choice.”

Meaning, “if you gave the importance of the pay element a eight, and you gave the Job in Seattle a seven for that job’s potential salary, you would take 8X7 and would come out with 56. This number goes on the right of your choice column.”

Finally, take your totals and add them.

If the Seattle job has a higher total than the Phoenix job, they conclude, that should tell you something.

We urge you to head on over to this post where the McKays have provided a few charts that explain this process visually (It’s a pretty simple approach actually.) and also provide some handy templates that you can print out and use.

No exercise, however, is foolproof, and they end with this warning about false positives: “Even though you try not to be biased, there’s a tendency to give the choice you really want higher scores, even if it really doesn’t warrant those scores. Despite that small drawback, multi-attribute choice optimization does a pretty good job of helping you come to a choice (after all, if you’re inflating the scores of one of your choices, then deep down you probably already know which one you want!). It forces you to really think about all the factors going into your decision.”

As physicians looking for a job, what are your thoughts on this approach to decision-making? Are you currently trying to decide between two attractive job options? In which direction are you leaning and why?

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