The 6 types of decision-making processes explained with ice-cream

The story of 3 friends who want to have ice-cream together.

Photo by Tobias Zils on Unsplash

(French translation available here)

Three friends, Alex, Billy and Camille, want to have ice-cream together. They pooled money together and have enough to buy only one bucket. They go to nearest vendor, and find out that two flavors are available: Vanilla and Strawberry.
Alex and Billy prefer vanilla, Camille prefers strawberry.

How are they going to decide which one to buy?

What would you and your friends do in a similar situation?
Take a moment to think about it before reading the rest of the article.


The 6 types of decision-making processes:

0. Statu quo

Unable to make a decision, the friends are stuck and don’t buy any ice-cream. Somewhat the ice-cream version of Buridan’s donkey paradox.

1. Random

The friends flip a coin and let fate decide.

2. Autocratic

Since Alex is holding the money, Alex decides to take vanilla without considering any of other person’s opinion.

3. Majority vote

The friends do a hand-vote. Alex and Billy vote vanilla. Camille votes strawberry. Vanilla wins, Camille loses.

4. Consensus

The friends agree to buy only the flavor that everyone agrees on.
Since they all have different preferences, they discuss possible solutions endlessly since they could never agree on a shared preference. After an undetermined amount of time one party “gives in”. Similar to “statu quo” but with a better outcome.

5. Consent

After exchanging preferences, Alex propose the group to pick vanilla and ask the group if they have a reason why not to choose vanilla. Camille tells them that s/he is lactose-intolerant and cannot eat vanilla ice-cream, and so the proposal fails to achieve the shared intent of having ice-cream together.
Hearing this Alex changes his/her proposal to strawberry. Although not their preference, Alex and Billy also like strawberry and don’t see any reason why not to pick that.


So which one corresponds most to what would happen with your friends?

Something close to consent, right?

This is how humans naturally make decisions together, and for a good reason, since, as you can see, its the best method that combines fairness and effectiveness.


Bonus: Decision-making anti-patterns

Some processes that you might believe are more types of decision-making processes, but are really just variants of the previous ones or are actually governance models.

-1. Blockchain

The friends pull out sudokus. The first person who finishes a sudoku gets to decide. An expensive variant of randomness before going into autocratic.

-2. Advice process

Alex holding the money, Alex goes for “advice” from Billy and Camille, and an ice-cream expert. Depending on how Alex considers those opinions, Alex would pick one or the other. Thus this could be any of the 6 types.

-3. Committee

The group decides to form a committee made out of Billy and Camille and have the committee decide. We are back to square one since within the committee, we still need to make a decision in one of the 6 types.


All credit goes to my friend Rami Brahem for the ice-cream example story.

Thank your for reaching the end of the article. If you found it interesting, please clap, share and talk about it around you.
You can also help me improve it by giving me honest and constructive feedback in the comments.