Making smarter choices

Matt Confer TED Talk

When facing a crossroads, how do you know which path to take? What strategies can you employ to ensure your decision is sound? Matthew Confer ’08 has your answer.

The alum recently shared his wisdom on better decision-making, on stage to a live audience, at TEDxOakLawn—an independent TED Talk event in Dallas.

Confer, who majored in economics at Wheaton, is the vice president of strategy and business development at Abilitie. The company, based in Austin, Texas, works with employees at Fortune 500 companies and universities, among others, on improving their decision-making acumen and business skills. Confer runs immersive leadership simulations, both in person and online, in more than 30 countries.

“What I love more than anything else is watching people focusing on their own development. I like people to push beyond their comfortable limits in the simulations,” he said.

In his TED talk, Confer distilled his knowledge from running these simulations. He shared with us a three-step process, applicable to anyone looking to take the smart step forward:

Challenge the constraints: “Too many times, we jump right into solving a problem and accept all the constraints we are presented with. It is better to begin not by solving, but instead by considering what barriers are holding you back from a real breakthrough. You first must decide what your constraints are and then you must determine if it is beneficial or even possible to challenge them. That must come before you ever begin to address the task in front of you.”

Embrace a pre-mortem: “It’s human nature to strategize an approach to a decision and then spend time formulating and strategizing all the ways you will be successful. However, many times we fail to spend any time considering the many ways the decision we are considering could end in failure. Investing the time upfront to brainstorm how a path under consideration could fail is a valuable
exercise for you to adjust your decision-​­making to mitigate for those outcomes.”

Check the basics: “Never let the small details be your downfall. Many of our decisions are complex with multiple layers. As a result, the planning and execution can involve many components. When complexity runs rampant, it frequently is the small details that prove to be the stumbling point. Always ensure that the final check is focused on the basics, because those are the critical details that are often overlooked.”

Watch Confer’s TED Talk