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Decision Points


Explanations > Decisions > Decision Points

Description | Discussion | So what



Across any single activity or a set of related activities, there may be points at which decisions have to be made. These are decision points.

Unless there are clear decision points, people often will continue with the momentum of the current activity. With uncertainty, decision points may not appear until they are urgently needed.

In the design or management of an activity, more or less decision points may be deliberately inserted or omitted. This 'decision about decisions' can have a significant effect on the efficiency and effectiveness of the process. A key factors in such design choices is in the time and cost incurred in making decisions.


A person is given five small bags of popcorn. After eating the each bag, then they have a decision-point as to whether to open the next bag. Another person is given two bags of popcorn, containing in total the same amount of popcorn as the first person had in five bags. After opening the first, however, this person only has one more decision point. Hunger will be a key factor, as will considerations of diet, other people, etc. Of course both people can decide to stop eating at any point, though the reality is that when a bag is opened, most people will eat all of the contents.

In retail situations there are clear decision points along the way, such as to stop and look in a window, to enter the shop, to try on clothes and to buy particular things. With careful design, these can be made easier and sales hence increased.

Business decision-making is more difficult as it often requires a number of people to agree before something is purchased, particularly if it is expensive. It can be helpful for sales people here to map out the customer's buying process and seek to facilitate the decisions made.


Decisions take time, effort, energy and expense, which together is sometimes called the transaction cost.  If you have more decisions, then you usually have greater transaction costs.

When you make a decision, choosing one thing over another, then there is also a cost in terms of the possible gain from the thing you rejected. This is called the opportunity cost.

More decision points give more opportunity for correcting things that are no longer right. Yet the transaction cost for each means more decision also cost more. In general, more decision points are needed in times of uncertainty when it is hard to see very far into the future and when frequent course corrections are needed.

Psychologically, decisions play to the need for a sense of control. People hence may desire more decisions than are logically needed. Against this, multiple decisions that are too difficult can lead to a sense of overwhelm or worry about making the wrong decision.

Decision is affected by desires. If I want something, then I will choose one way. If I have no current need, then I will decide the other way. Decision points that occur just before or after the satisfaction of desires will hence have quite different results. For example if a person is still hungry after eating a bag of popcorn, they will be motivated to open another bag, but if they have had just enough, they will be more likely to resist the temptation to eat more.

Finding an optimal decision strategy hence involves a balancing act that needs to take into account transaction cost, the opportunity cost, the cost of continuing things which are no longer useful and the human psychological effects around decision-making.

So what?

In persuasion, you want people to decide at points where they are likely to choose in your favor, and to prevent them from deciding at other points. It hence becomes important to understand the effects that decisions have on the person or people in question.

It is also a good idea to ensure decisions that you want them to make are easy to choose and decide. If you give them too much choice they may remain confused or worry about making the wrong decision. It is better to give them simple choices between a few options, with the one you want them to take as being the obvious selection.

See also

Needs, Motivation, Control


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