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01.22.14

ChoiceMap: An App to Help You Make Better Decisions

Struggling with a decision? ChoiceMap, an iPhone app, uses an algorithm to help you make the right call.

I’m not the world’s greatest decider.

When faced with a tough decision, I tend to waver, stress, sleep, cry, talk to everyone, ignore everyone, watch Netflix, fret, and then, finally, make the call. Sometimes I’ll just go with my gut and hope for the best.

Rarely do I sit down and list out the pros and cons of each and every choice that is on the table to compare them side-by-side. But thankfully—and finally—there’s an app for that.

Meet ChoiceMap, an iOS app that claims to help people make better decisions. It’s available for free in the App Store.

“It all started with mistakes,” ChoiceMap founder Jonathan Jackson explains in a video introducing the app. For years he dated a woman “in a push-pull spiral down the pit of despair,” then picked the wrong grad school that saw him move across the country.

Video screenshot

Faced with the where-to-move-now decision that would have him choosing between family in L.A. versus jobs in New York City versus a college friend he wanted to date in Seattle, he did what all of us would do. He wrote an algorithm. (Okay, not everybody.)

The algorithm chose wisely.

“I ended up moving to Seattle and marrying the crap out of that friend and it’s the best decision I ever made,” he says, because the algorithm gave him a process to follow. “A system.” That system weighs a number of factors for a variety of big life decisions on an even scale.

I asked Jackson what, exactly, that means.

“At the most basic level, the algorithm helps people make tough decisions—or any decisions really,” he says. “Most decisions involve priorities that yank us in several directions at once. If we’re naming a baby, for example, priorities might include family tradition, fit with last name, nickname potential, each name’s uniqueness—those sorts of things. Our potential options typically meet some needs better than others. ChoiceMap helps you understand your priorities and options, and then the algorithm ranks each option by how well it meets your needs.”

“I ended up moving to Seattle and marrying the crap out of that friend and it's the best decision I ever made.”

He continues: “The algorithm also offers a percentage of perfect for each option. Options rarely receive a 100% perfection score, because the real world is almost never 100% perfect. Oddly enough, that instills confidence. When your best option is only 80% perfect, for example, you’re less likely to second guess yourself when you inevitably run into problems from that 20%. Your option might not have been perfect, but it was still the best move.”

Convinced, I decide to take the app for a test run to decide where I should go on my next trip out of New York City.

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ChoiceMap/Facebook

Sometime over the next few months to a year, I have reasons that are pulling us towards the following places for a trip: Vermont (to snowboard), Florida (to visit my family), Colorado (to snowboard and visit my family), Costa Rica (because why not), Portland (friends), and Italy (a family member’s birthday). I plugged all these locations into the app and labeled the decision, “Vacation.” ChoiceMap then asks I set the priority level on a variety of factors, such as “lodging price” or “safety,” to tell the algorithm how much these things matter to me. Then, I grade each destination on each of those factors, on a sliding scale from “awful” to “ideal.”

Hit next, and the app does something I can rarely do: it decides.

Based on my input, the next stop on my globe-trotting itinerary should be…Vermont! Okay. A snowboard trip. But that’s tied with Florida, where I would visit with my parents. I guess family wins, and it’s a short, sweet weekend trip down south, so that’s where I’m headed.

Mom, Dad: I’ll see you in a week.

The app shines in how it ranks all deciding factors on a level playing field, then lets you decide how much the variables really matter to you. It takes each decision somewhat out of context, and, in a way, puts on the horse-blinders.

This version of the app does leave room for improvement, most notably in the constrained way a user has a limited subset of possible decisions—career moves, to stay or split from a significant other, and a few more. It does, though, have a "create a choice" button that lets you set your destiny.

Jackson knows this, however, and has bigger plans in the works/ Speaking to TechCrunch, he mentioned future plans that extend “well beyond the iPhone app.” He says: “We plan to change the way the entire world makes decisions—from picking the size of a latte to passing foreign policy. The app is a tiny step toward a much larger decision-making platform.”

It’s a platform he’s bound to fully trust.

Asked what happens if the algorithm suggests one thing, but his gut suggests something else, Jackson says he pauses and thinks. “ChoiceMap is often right, and my gut feeling is really pushing me in an irrational direction. When that happens, I act on ChoiceMap’s results.”