This book posits a basic hypothesis. "We are too distracted in our lives, and our work". The author explains, this distraction is partly the increasing role that techonolgy plays in our lives, but also the increasingly higher value that we place on "action". Then this book attempts to answer the question: "what happens to organizations filled with distracted people?" The author succeeds in looking beyond the obvious, and finding a systemic flaw in our collective behavior. The flaw is that we have removed the practice of reflective thinking in our daily routines; organizations don't value it, and people don't do it.
Why is reflection important, who cares? This book will demonstrate that if you want your organization to be adaptive to change, creative in its solutions, and meainingful in its impact; then reflective thinking is a key ingredient.
The author's writing style is very conversational, and not overly academic. Their are a few hard data points and statistics, but for the most part this book is about stories. It's about real-life examples of companies and individuals who have reclaimed the lost art of reflection and how it is effecting their lives. These stories are wide ranging, and do a nice job covering the four pillars of American institutions: Government, Private Industry, Academia and Non-Profits. His examples range from the financial crisis and Katrina response, to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq and even the American Civil War. At the end of each chapter there are take-aways; key lessons to learn from each chapter, which are usually steps or important considerations for implementing the books advice. Though it may seem redundant, these take-aways really provide a nice roadmap for how to put this book to use, which is something severly lacking in most "business" books I read.
The stories he tells are really interesting annecdotes by themselves, but to me the price of this book comes from discovering one underlying observation consistent through all the examples he gives. This observation is really important and can't be understaded. It is that organizations who embrace reflective thinking send a signal that they care about finding some objective truth. They want truth about their performance, about their impact in the world, and to know, with some certainty, that they are making the right decision and not just the first decision. As a result of reflection and think time, these institutions create cultures of dissent, and are not afraid to explore the "what if we are wrong" scenarios.
In my opinion America is ripe for this kind of honest conversation. As we look back at the last 10 years and see our hasty reactions to 9/11, irrational exuberence in the housing market, and a political system all too happy with short-term, bandaid policies; it becomes obvious that more time to sit back and think through mistake avoidance is needed now more than ever.