In a rational model of decision making, it is assumed that decisions can and should be arrived at based on adherence to a logical procedure, which the text identifies as consisting of four distinct steps: (1) defining the goal(s); (2) identifying the alternatives available for achieving the goal; (3) assessing the potential outcomes and implications of each alternative; and finally, (4) selecting the option that appears most feasible, viable, and likely to result in the attainment of the goal. In many cases, it is possible to skip steps 1 and 2 and go straight to the remaining steps because the goal and alternatives have already been identified. Also, the rational model of decision making assumes that because the possible alternatives may be limitless, the decision-maker imposes a particular limit to the number of alternatives that he or she is willing to consider.

The polis model of decision making, by contrast, is deliberately more ambiguous. Whereas the rational model of decision making involves a cost-benefit analysis to determine the best course of action, the polis model introduces ambiguity and even indecisiveness or inconclusiveness at every step in the decision making process. The polis model of decision making is characteristic of politicians, public figures, and corporate managers, who intentionally frame problems incompletely, identify goals either partially or articulate one set of goals publicly and another privately, fail to reveal all possible alternatives, and who choose the alternative that will preserve his or her own interests, not necessarily the interests of the larger group.

One pertinent example we can use to understand the difference between the rational decision making process and the polis model is the current war in Iraq and the debate involving troop withdrawal. The Bush administration is definitely using a polis model of decision making to talk and make decisions about the trajectory of the war. First, the administration has partialized the problem of troop withdrawal, looking primarily at the effect that withdrawal would have on Middle East political and social stability, and not looking at some of the more difficult and equally preoccupying problems of troop mental health and the effects of war on families. Second, the administration has identified only two possible goals—withdraw completely or remain in Iraq—which obscures other alternatives. Finally, the administration is clearly pursuing the decision that will satisfy its own goals, not necessarily the needs or greater good of either the Iraqi people or the American people. For these reasons, one can begin to see how a polis decision making model, while common, is problematic and even dangerous.