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An Interview with Melissa Llarena

Nov 17, 2020

It’s not every day I get to ask a decision engineer a question. This week, Michelle Florendo joins me on the podcast. She is an executive coach who helps people untangle messy decisions in life and work. You are going to enjoy this conversation if you’ve ever found yourself in a position in making a messy decision. Michelle shares her step-by-step process for making decisions and also helps us untangle the difference between good vs. bad decisions and the desired outcomes.   

After studying decision engineering at Stanford University, she spent the past 15 years helping hundreds of professionals use the principles of decision engineering to make decisions with less stress and more clarity. She has led workshops on decision making for both domestic and international audiences, guest-taught on decision making in Stanford's famous Designing Your Life course, been a repeat workshop lead at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business' Women in Leadership Conference, and currently hosts the podcast Ask A Decision Engineer. She served on the inaugural coaching team for Seth Godin's altMBA, is a founding member of the Forbes Coaches Council, is a Senior Coach for Management Leadership for Tomorrow, and is an adjunct faculty member at New Ventures West. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and two small children.  

During our time together, Michelle also explained how we have two thinking systems and how we can begin to use the system that is effortless, fast, and often undervalued in our society which tends to value our brainpower over what our heart and gut may be saying. Enjoy. 


  • The characteristics of typical decisions. (6:49) 
    How to know when you need a decision scientist to have your back. (7:32)
  • There are emotional components to making decisions that require understanding what our emotions are telling us. (9:09)
  • FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and how we are socialized to think about optimal decisions. (10:13)
  • Michelle shares about how she made the decision to leave a full-time job to work for herself. (11:55)
  • Feeling lost and ashamed about making the wrong career decision and how Michelle applied her expertise to her situation. (14:50)
  • Decisions are made of three components: objective, options, and information on how those options may have on your big objective. (15:51)
  • When we are judged for our decisions: we talk about career trauma or a visceral reaction. (20:42)
  • If a decision had a good outcome then that decision must have been good. Alternatively, if the outcome is bad then the decision must have been bad. Michelle explains how neither of these views is always true and how outside forces can affect decision outcomes. (21:43)
  • System 2 thinking (slow, cerebral, analyzing, effortful) versus System 1 thinking (fast, intuitive, sometimes prone to bias, effortless). (24:48)
  • How we can expand the capacity of either thinking system. (27:05)
  • Is being an entrepreneur or full-time corporate professional more mentally draining? (28:51)
  • Making a career pivot. Pivoting requires one decision and then smaller decisions may be needed to support your success too. (32:26)
  • How to make a decision using System 1 Thinking 101:  write everything in your brain down, then imagine stepping into each option, and tune into what you feel. Ask yourself: are you feeling something that is contrary or not? What is the emotion telling me? Is it fear or a settling? What happens to your heart rate? Give yourself space to explore. How might you use this data? (46:11) 
  • Realizing that you can make the best decision and be vigilant enough to know when you need to make another decision too. (52:00) 

Links to quench your curiosity: