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Rubicon Model


Explanations > Decisions > Rubicon Model

Description | Example | Discussion | So what



The Rubicon Model of decision-making is applicable where there is a single, irreversible decision to be made.

Before making the decision you are in the pre-decisional phase, in which you may make other choices. After making the decision, you are in the post-decisional phase and cannot now undo the decision.

This model hence indicates that care should be taken first in making the decision, then commitment sustained once the decision is made.


When a person is buying a house, there is a point where they sign legal contracts and the house is bought. If they find any problems, they cannot complain. They had the opportunity to do surveys before signing the contract. After signature there is no redress other than where legal agreements have been broken.

A person resigns from their job, knowing that they will not be accepted back if they change their mind.


The Rubicon was the river that separated the Roman empire from Gaul. When Julius Caesar was expanding the Roman Empire in 49 BC and he reached this boundary he knew that if he decided to cross it, then war would have been declared and the Gauls would not stop fighting until once side were soundly defeated.

Caesar decided to cross the river, and in doing so said 'The die is cast', knowing that the choice was made and that he could not now retreat or stop until Gaul was conquered.

This type of one-way decision is common in all walks of life and such choices are often talked about as 'crossing the Rubicon'. Actually crossing the river, taking the decision and the making first confirmatory steps can be hugely tiring as the visceral realization of the enormity of the decision hits home.

Once the exhausting decision is made, people become depleted and hence resist further discussion, preferring to just get on with the job. This can sometimes be seen in the careless inaction of people who have decided to give up on something.

The non-reversible nature makes the decision risk proportional to the potential loss. Small decisions where the loss can easily be accepted are not really a problem. Rubicon decisions are particularly problematic when potential losses are high, in which case significant 'due diligence' (a term used in business acquisitions) may be done to uncover potential extra costs. Other systems of risk management may also be implemented, including change management, risk reduction, close monitoring and contingency planning.

So what?

When you have a one-way decision like this, take time to ensure you are making the right decision. Do not hurry into it. Get advice from professionals and others as appropriate. Reflect on the decision and give your subconscious time to come up with real objections.

If you are persuading others, then you may want to hurry them along, interrupting their reflections and encouraging them into an early decision. Be careful with this as you may end up pushing them the wrong way.

See also

Short-cut decisions


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