top of page
  • Writer's pictureTaylor Roy

Two Ways to Combat Narrow Framing

In Decisive, Chip and Dan Heath explore the psychology behind our decision making processes. They show how disruptive our array of biases truly are. We’re overconfident, fall victim to confirmation bias, and get distracted by short-term emotions. When it comes to making choices, our brains are flawed instruments. Narrow framing is one of these flaws.

Narrow framing is a fundamental shortcoming in decision making of not seeing the bigger picture. One may find themselves narrow framing if they are wondering “whether or not” or they’ve limited themselves to limited options. It’s typically referenced in investing but the same concept can be applied anywhere decisions are being made. The ability to recognize when one is narrow framing is key in making better decisions. Once we recognize this, there are two ways in which we can combat it.

Opportunity Cost

The first way is to consider a decision in terms of opportunity cost (what we give up when we make a decision). Decisive gives a great example of a customer at an electronics store. The customer has a $1k budget for a new stereo system. The customer narrows it down to a $1k Bose system or a $700 Sony system. The customer is trying to struggling to decide and enlists the help of a salesperson. The salesperson reframes the dilema. The salesperson tells the customer they could spend $1k on the Bose system, or $700 on the Sony system but use the $300 on music. The customer is intrigued because they hadn’t thought about it in those terms. Purchasing the Bose system meant sacrificing the chance to buy the Sony system with music.

Vanishing Options Test

The second way to combat narrow framing is with the “vanishing options test”. In another example from Decisive, the Heaths detail a story about a graduate school director deciding whether or not to fire an under performing administrative assistant. Anna, the administrative assistant, has two main responsibilities; tracking expenses and serving as the first point of contact for students seeking jobs. Anna was good at tracking expenses but poor with the social side of her role. She was too introverted. Sanders, the director, was stuck. Dan Heath spoke with Sanders and asked her to imagine being stuck with the admin but that she couldn’t be the first point of contact. Sanders thought about it, and proposed she could move Anna from the front, and staff the front door differently. When Sanders imagined she couldn’t have the initial two options, she thought outside the box and created another solution.


Narrow framing is something we all fall victim to. Making decisions can be mentally taxing so our brains tend to narrow our options down in order to make a quicker and easier decision. In certain contexts it’s fine to do this but with more complex and higher risk decisions, we simply cannot allow ourselves to fall in to the trap of narrow framing. Opportunity cost and the “vanishing options test” are two great ways to help us look at the bigger picture, leading to better decision making.


bottom of page