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Different models of decision-making

How do we make decisions? In this article, Helen Kempster discusses different models of decision-making. Let's explore.
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© Goldsmiths, University of London

Once you have generated some career ideas and done some initial research, you will need to go through the process of making a decision about your next step.

There are two main styles of decision making; rational and intuitive. We will look at these in more detail below.

Rational decision making

Rational decision making is usually based on a logical assessment of the pros and cons of various alternatives. It usually involves gathering information on possible options and choosing the most logical and sensible approach.

There are many different models of rational decision making. However, many follow a typical pattern, which involves defining what you are trying to achieve, generating alternatives, researching these alternatives, choosing your preferred option and then taking action.

One such model is the D.E.C.I.D.E. model, proposed by Guo (2008). This suggests going through the following stages:

D = define the problem
What is the decision you need to make?

E = establish the criteria
What factors are important in this decision?

C = consider all the alternatives
What are your options?

I = identify the best alternative
Which is the best option?

D = develop and implement a plan of action
How are you going to put the best option into practice?

E = evaluate and monitor the solution
Was it really the best option? Do you need to change your solution?

Other rational models use scoring to weight the various criteria. One example of this is the Pugh matrix (proposed by Pugh (1990)). This involves coming up with the criteria you will use to make the decision and then weighing each one according to its importance. You then give each option a score based on how well it meets the weighted criteria.

Read more about the Pugh matrix here.

Whilst rational decision-making models give a clear structure to follow, one disadvantage is that they can be quite time-consuming in terms of gathering information about all the alternatives. In addition, it may not always be possible to find all the information you need.

Intuitive decision making

Intuitive decision making may also be described as ‘gut instinct’ or ‘doing what feels right. However, it does not mean that you simply make a decision at random. Most people’s ‘gut instinct’ is based on their experience, and patterns they have spotted around them.

So, when they make an intuitive decision, they are basing it on their knowledge and experience. The key difference between this and rational decision making is that there is generally no conscious comparison of alternatives. Recent research shows that in fact the majority of decisions are made in this way.

Considering options one-by-one

One way that people often make decisions intuitively is by considering options one by one and running through possible scenarios, either by thinking them through or actually trying them. To use a simple example, imagine you need to get from your home to a friend’s house that you haven’t visited before. You have the address and need to decide which is the best way to get there.

You think there’s a bus that goes straight there, but you look it up and find that’s wrong; you then look at a map to see if it’s possible to walk there easily; when you find it’s too far to walk you ask your family if someone can take you by car…in other words, you keep trying solutions till you find one.

You could even set off on the journey without having decided how to get there and see what happens along the way (for example, if you’re on the bus and it’s taking too long, you may decide to get out and walk).


Guo, K.L. (2008). DECIDE: a decision-making model for more effective decision making by health care managers. Health Care Manag (Frederick). 2008 Apr-Jun;27(2):118-27.

Pugh, S. (1990). Total Design: Integrated Methods for Successful Product Engineering. Pearson: USA

© Goldsmiths, University of London
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