Merge's Blog

A decision-making insight from eating peanuts!

peanutsIf you’re a leader, then you’re responsible for decision-making.  Which is why it we have a whole section on Problem Solving tools on the blog.  Today’s insight comes from peanuts in the shell – a concession staple at just about any baseball game!

So think about the last time you purchased a bag of these tasty treats.  As you shelled the peanuts, did you put the empty shells back in the same bag?  Chances are you didn’t, likely for a couple of reasons.  One, because it instinctively doesn’t make sense to put the waste in with the good peanuts, and two (and perhaps more importantly), every time you put the unwanted shells back in the bag, you reduce your chances of getting a good peanut the next time you reach in.

How does this apply to decision-making in the workplace?

There is a workplace equivalent to this scenario, having to do with decision-making.  As a leader, you are charged with making a variety of decisions, often requiring you to select the best choice from a number of possible options.  Using this metaphor, it makes sense to discard choices as you evaluate them as unsuitable.  Why put them back in the bag where they’ll just continue to muddle and reduce the efficacy of your decision-making?  But that’s exactly what we often do.  We consider an alternative, decide it isn’t suitable, and instead of removing it from our slate of choices, we return it to the bag of possibilities. The unfortunate outcome: we significantly reduce the efficiency and effectiveness of our decision-making.

This decision-making misstep usually happens because we’re trying to hedge our bets.  Often, we’re not fully confident about our choices, so we think it’s better to keep all the options “in play” for as long as possible.  But in actuality, we’re complicating the process more than we need to.  Far better to assess each option for viability, and then to immediately remove from consideration the ones that are not appropriate.

Well, what do you think?  Is this good advice for more effective decision-making, or will this approach in fact cause one to eliminate feasible options too early?  Please share your thoughts by commenting below.


  • There is a good book called ‘Decisive’ by Chip and Dan Heath. This book gives good insight into the reasons we make bad decisions and the pitfalls to look out for.

    • Thank you Joe for the recommendation. I am aware of the book and agree with your endorsement.

  • I love Merge’s Blog as it reminds me of simple concepts that, if used, will make me a better contributor by simplifying the complicated process of decision making. I believe that I will be able to recall this principle through the analogy of the bag of peanuts – thank you.

    • Aww thanks Maureen, appreciate the compliment! I’m glad that you liked this analogy … sometimes I’m never really sure if they’re out there .. or if they connect. So glad to hear it’s the latter!


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