The essay part of this book review favors treating Why Decisions Fail as a set of magazine articles; picking the case study closest to your industry and/or current management duty; and zeroing in on the related chapters. But the globally minded still wonder: What does Paul C. Nutt recommend? He writes near the very end about "practices and tips" that if followed "will have very little cost -- compared to the cost of a debacle." The academic in him shies away from pitching a universal method or doctrine.
And Why Decisions Fail is so governed by its case studies that any attempt to boil down the wisdom would seem generalized to the point of blandness. Therefore, I reprint the "practices and tips" from pages 262-64 with no edits, and only one editorial assist: Those in search of bold new strategies might do better to remember Professor Nutt's 20 years of methodical study -- and then take to heart the purple-ink extract. Sometimes "boldness" means being methodical, going slow, and avoiding the debacle…
(1) PERSONALLY MANAGE YOUR DECISION-MAKING EFFORTS. The prospects of success improve when you take charge. Delegation to experts or to people who are expected to champion your ideas may give you time for other things but have an unfortunate fallout. The person getting the hand-off will not have your zeal for the effort, which lowers the chance of success considerably.
(2) MAKE ETHICS AN ONGOING CONSIDERATION. Empower people to use their standards of justice. Give ethical rationality equal standing with political, logical, and economic rationality. Consider what people will expect and who will oppose you and that what is given by logic and facts has no more power than people's values, as given by their justice standards. Finding actions that embrace these values paves the way for success.
(3) UNCOVER THE ARENA OF ACTION. Signals that capture your attention may be symptomatic, misleading, or more urgent than important. Careful probing of the claims offered by stakeholders will provide a window that opens up on a landscape with useful insights into what needs attention. The time spent reflecting on these needs to find what is at issue in an issue can pay handsome dividends. A deeper understanding of the issues that merit attention suggest what the decision is about and provides a defense for the course of action that is ultimately selected.
(4) DEAL WITH BARRIERS TO ACTION. Implementation tactics address social and political barriers to action. Intervention is the best way to manage the social and political barriers that can block a decision. Participation can be recommended when using intervention would draw your attention away from other, more important activities. Avoid edicts and persuasion, even if your decision seems urgent.
(5) ESTABLISH YOUR DIRECTION WITH AN OBJECTIVE. An objective that indicates the desired outcome opens up a search to new ideas. An open search pays dividends by reducing the chance of failure.
(6) STRESS POLITICAL [AS WELL AS] LOGICAL RATIONALITY. A decision-making process should be able to think about action and how to take action. Many decision-makers are pulled toward [either] idea-development or managing the politics of the situation. They see the importance of one but not the other. There is no substitute for clear thinking or for diplomatic action. Both thoughtful idea-development and adroit promotion are essential.
(7) IDENTIFY MORE THAN ONE OPTION. Several competing options improve results. Discarded options are not wasted; they help you confirm the value of a preferred course of action and frequently offer ways to improve it. Employ one of the more effective option development tactics to do this. Consider developing one option with benchmarking, one with solicitation search, and one with innovation. This opens up your search process to a variety of ideas from different sources. The best one, or a combination of the best features of several, often suggests a solution with compelling features.
(8) INSIST ON LEARNING. Treat all decisions as a learning experience, as [IBM's Thomas] Watson Jr. did when his manager made a mistake that cost millions. Allow mistakes to be discussable. This will open up information about outcomes that you need to learn. Making things discussable is essential for learning.
Gregorsky's tack-on: Watson's comment on the IBMer who conceded he deserved to be fired was: "Fire you? I just spent millions educating you!"
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