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Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad…

Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep it From…

by Sydney Finkelstein

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I was handed this book at the conclusion of a management seminar I had unexpectedly enjoyed, and so spurred by that novel experience but otherwise against my better judgement, decided to give it the benefit of the doubt.

The authors' programme is interesting enough - to analyse famous the decision-making process that culminated in the most egregious political and corporate blunders - but it would be guilty of 20:20 hindsight were it not for the caveat that examples selected were those which were patent howlers even at the time the decision was made, as opposed to informed punts that just didn't work out. Some of the examples may well be controversial: time might have sufficiently told on Kennedy's Bay of Pigs fiasco, but I dare say there are more than a defiant few who would still defend the decision to invade Iraq, which makes me wonder whether the determination "obvious on its face howler" itself is only that can only emerge after the passage of time and opportunity for sober reflection. If so, much of this book's thrust is undermined.

In any case the authors have sifted through literally hundreds of such obviously catastrophic decisions and from them extracted some commonly occurring "red flags" which, they say, could have pointed to concerns about the soundness of the decision at the time - "misleading experiences" and "misleading pre-judgements" informing the decision, and "inappropriate attachments" and "inappropriate self-interest" undermining the judgement of the decision-maker. If you spot one or more of these reg flags floating about when you're about to make that major call, reach quickly for what the authors identify as "safeguards" - seek more data and further analysis; conduct full and open group debate (but no more than is necessary) to surface contrary points of view; insist on rigorous governance for the decision governance; and monitor the decision-making process.

All of which is fine, and so much common sense, but it's hard to put into any kind of workable practice. Exactly which experiences and pre-judgements are misleading, and which are on the money, is the sixty-four thousand dollar question - difficult to know until the scenario has played out, at which point - too late - it becomes dead easy. Yet this is, of necessity, the point before which the authors cannot begin their data-gathering. And the authors present cogent evidence of our tendency to rationalise or justify inappropriate conflicts and attachments, meaning it will be necessarily difficult to know what we're on the lookout for.

I have a sense that the case-histories are somewhat self-selecting and suffer from a sort of inverted survivor bias: from the fact of a catastrophic decision one then proceeds to identify the missed red flag behind it (and there must be one, or it wouldn't have been a catastrophic decision, by the authors' own theory). All these car-crash anecdotes make for entertaining, schadenfreude-filled reading (it's a bit like watching one of those police chase TV shows) but its value informing a prevention strategy is not easy to gauge. It is much harder, after all, to identify those decisions where red flags were identified, safeguards employed and a catastrophe was unequivocally averted.

That said, "Think Again" is definitely food for thought, so it certainly does what it says on the tin, and the case studies make eye-watering reading, but the real lesson is the more general one that we're far less rational and far more dangerously capricious than we like to think. ( )
  ElectricRay | Aug 18, 2009 |
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"In this book, Sydney Finkelstein, Jo Whitehead, and Andrew Campbell - each a distinguished expert on strategy and decision making in corporations - show how the usually beneficial processes of the human mind can become traps: experience and emotion can distort our judgment, even while we're striving for objectivity, and we fail to spot errors in our thinking." "Think Again provides a new model to help us make better decisions. With vivid stories ranging across industries and disciplines, the authors deconstruct bad decisions and identify the forces that have produced them. They go on to show you how to recognize the conditions - red flags - under which good decision making is most likely to falter, and offer a way of selecting safeguards that reduce the risk and ensure better outcomes."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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