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How the Wise Decide: The Lessons of 21 Extraordinary Leaders [Hardcover]

Aaron Sandoski , Bryn Zeckhauser
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

Aug. 26 2008
Discover the formula used by twenty-one of the world’s most extraordinary leaders to make consistent and smart decisions.

How do the wise decide and lead businesses and organizations to great success is the question Bryn Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski posed to themselves after landing their first jobs as managers. Despite the best training the world could offer—Harvard MBAs and stints at McKinsey & Company, the elite powerhouse consulting firm—they felt unprepared when faced with the pressure to make critical decisions. So they set out on a three-year quest to discover how people with remarkable success and experience in both corporate and public life—“the wise”—went about making crucial, often make-or-break decisions.

• How did William George, when CEO of Medtronic, get the real story about why a critical tool used by cardiologists was failing and use that information to fix a systemic problem within the company?
• When inventor Dean Kamen has to make a decision about investing in a new technology, why does he find it useful to “fill a room with barbarians” to get the best thinking from his team?
• How did Shelly Lazarus assess the risks of making a nontraditional career move, a decision that eventually led her to being appointed CEO?
• How did Stephen Schwarzman and Peter Peterson, the founders of The Blackstone Group, turn $400,000 of their own money into one of the world’s preeminent alternative asset managers with $100 billion under management?

These and the other accounts of the direct conversations Zeckhauser and Sandoski had with twenty-one major leaders show that between wise decisions and poor ones lie vast fortunes and extraordinary contrasts in success. How the Wise Decide distills their wisdom, and it reveals how you can use this wisdom to be on the winning side of the ledger.

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How the Wise Decide is akin to sitting down for a mentoring session with some of the great leaders of recent years. Its commonsense lessons on decision-making, clear writing, and practical guidelines make it a wise choice for both people just starting their careers as well as those with years of experience under their belt.”
—Frank Blake, chairman and CEO, Home Depot

“Bryn Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski offer a rich collection of insights on how leaders make and implement important decisions, distilled from an impressively wide range of major decision-makers. The discussion of risk, risk mitigation, and incentives is particularly useful. The importance of transparency and its relation to self-selection is very interesting. And the commentary on the no-carryover principle and the pocket veto is just fascinating.
—A. Michael Spence, former dean, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics

“What is wisdom? How is it acquired? Can it be codified? Can it be learned? Bryn Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski have attacked these questions head-on by focusing on how twenty-one remarkable leaders make decisions. They discern some fascinating patterns, which form the basis for concrete and practical advice. Zeckhauser and Sandoski have done us a great service by picking these people to study and helping us learn from them. Every reader can benefit from reading How the Wise Decide since we all can certainly use a dose of wisdom.”
—William A. Sahlman, Dimitri V. d’Arbeloff– MBA Class of 1955 Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

How the Wise Decide thoughtfully examines principles that inform effective decision-making and shows how successful leaders have used them to make critical decisions. In a series of interesting and well-researched lessons, Bryn Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski offer practical advice and a method that all managers can use to improve their decision-making.”
—Roger W. Ferguson Jr., president and CEO, TIAA-CREF

“The most difficult dilemma in business is how to make the tough decisions. How the Wise Decide provides compelling examples from our greatest leaders as to how they source information, deal with risk, and let their long-term vision guide them in making the tough calls. For anyone who wants to be a wise decision-maker, the first choice should be to buy this book.”
—Sarah Levy, COO, Nickelodeon

About the Author

BRYN ZECKHAUSER is a senior fellow at Harvard University’s Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Business and Government and a principal at Equity Resource Investments, a real-estate investment firm with funds in the United States and Asia. She developed her interest in strategic decision making working with portfolio companies at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and with her Fortune 500 clients at McKinsey and Company.

AARON SANDOSKI is managing director of Norwich Ventures, a medical device venture capital firm. He began his professional career with the consulting firm McKinsey & Company and has also been a teaching fellow at Harvard University, where he won the Allyn Young Teaching Prize.

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Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Amazon Customer HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
In Judgment, Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis assert that what really matters "is not how many calls a leader gets right, or even what percentage of calls a leader gets right. Rather it is important how many of the important ones he or she gets right." They go on to suggest that effective leaders "not only make better calls, but they are able to discern the really important ones and get a higher percentage of them right. They are better at a whole process that runs from seeing the need for a call, to framing issues, to figuring out what is critical, to mobilizing and energizing the troops." That is certainly true of the 21 "extraordinary leaders" whom Bryn Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski examine in this book.

Although quite different in terms of their personality, leadership style, and circumstances, what do the 21 share in common? Zeckhauser and Sandoski spent three years in search of the answer and concluded that all of them make their "tough calls" based six core decision-making principles. Here are two:

Go to the Source: "Making it a routine part of your job to go to the source will require a new mind-set, a realignment of your priorities and the tenacity to pursue firsthand information wherever it may take you. But if you become skilled at using this powerful tool as the three leaders you're about to meet [i.e. Bill George, Mike Reuttgers, and Orin Smith], you can beat competitors, find new markets, and generate terrific new products." Other leaders discussed include Paul Galvin (Motorola), John Whitehead (Goldman Sachs), and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer

Listen with Purpose: "Are you listening carefully? Then you're missing the point. It isn't how you listen, it's why you listen that's important.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Lessons for Small Businesses, Too Nov. 16 2008
By T. Stableford - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
How the Wise Decide provides great insights for managers of all levels. As a small business owner (i.e. 3 employees, if you count the Chesapeake Bay Retriever under my desk), I found profound guidance here for both creating a business vision and the equally challenging task of implementing it. The authors have done a commendable job of culling valuable, hard-earned lessons from the country's top business leaders; this book has become a well-worn, dog-eared reference tool.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant contribution! Sept. 12 2008
By Rockwell Kent - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This engaging and extraordinary book is filled with fascinating stories and advice which is extremely valuable, even to those not in the business world. The authors have made a truly significant contribution on many levels - one which will improve lives in business and many arenas. It is also a page-turner. I couldn't put it down!
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Smart Decisions Sept. 11 2008
By John Court - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
You'd be wise to decide to buy this book. The passive wisdom that may or may not come with age is second only to the active wisdom born of the focus, determination and intelligent risk-taking demonstrated by most of these 21 exceptional people. Zeckhauser and Sandoski lead us up the mountain and to the source.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars How do the really successful leaders make the "tough calls"? Sept. 8 2008
By Amazon Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In Judgment, Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis assert that what really matters "is not how many calls a leader gets right, or even what percentage of calls a leader gets right. Rather it is important how many of the important ones he or she gets right." They go on to suggest that effective leaders "not only make better calls, but they are able to discern the really important ones and get a higher percentage of them right. They are better at a whole process that runs from seeing the need for a call, to framing issues, to figuring out what is critical, to mobilizing and energizing the troops." That is certainly true of the 21 "extraordinary leaders" whom Bryn Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski examine in this book.

Although quite different in terms of their personality, leadership style, and circumstances, what do the 21 share in common? Zeckhauser and Sandoski spent three years in search of the answer and concluded that all of them make their "tough calls" based six core decision-making principles. Here are two:

Go to the Source: "Making it a routine part of your job to go to the source will require a new mind-set, a realignment of your priorities and the tenacity to pursue firsthand information wherever it may take you. But if you become skilled at using this powerful tool as the three leaders you're about to meet [i.e. Bill George, Mike Reuttgers, and Orin Smith], you can beat competitors, find new markets, and generate terrific new products." Other leaders discussed include Paul Galvin (Motorola), John Whitehead (Goldman Sachs), and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer

Listen with Purpose: "Are you listening carefully? Then you're missing the point. It isn't how you listen, it's why you listen that's important." Zeckhauser and Sandoski have identified three major purposes leaders have for listening. "The first is listening to gather information." More specifically, listening "to fill in gaps in the information you already have...Finally, listen with the purpose of generating ownership." That is, to ensure that the decision once made will be properly executed, first seek out and respect the opinions of others to reassure them that their input is valued. "A great decision that can't or won't be executed is no decision at all." Leaders discussed in this chapter include Vernon Loucks (Baxter Healthcare), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong of Singapore, Bill Riley (World Wildlife Fund), and Rick Wagoner (General Motors).

Zeckhauser and Sandoski devote a chapter to each of the six principles, citing real-world examples to illustrate it, then suggest in the final chapter that as a manager masters one principle, she or begin working on another. This is an excellent suggestion because, although separate, the principles are also interrelated, if not interdependent. That is "bad news" if you are fearful of contacting an irate customer to discuss a serious problem because, if you don't, the problem is certain to become worse. This is also "good news" because if you listen with purpose to those who inform you of a serious problem, and do so with respect and appreciation, they and others will continue to do so and then support your efforts to solve the given problem.

I urge those who read this review not to be deterred by the fact that all of the 21 exemplary leaders whom Zeckhauser and Sandoski discuss are prominent. Together, it is true, they demonstrate the power and value of the six core decision-making principles but that is because they have mastered those principles and, in most cases, did so only after experiencing one or more of what Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas characterize as "crucibles" in their book, Geeks & Geezers. Centuries ago, metallurgists attempted to transform chemical compounds into gold. Their instrument was a crucible, a cup-shaped receptacle that they heated to very high temperatures. Most managers in today's business world have already experienced - or will experience -- personal tragedies, failures, disappointments, dysfunctional relationships, etc. Some managers emerge from these modern-day "crucibles" stronger, wiser, and better prepared to cope with whatever may await them. Other managers do not. Although Bryn Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski make no such claim, I think that mastery of the same six principles can help managers to avoid or at least emerge from crucible-like experiences. Better yet, they will help managers to become more fully developed human beings as well as more effective leaders.

The book they have written is a brilliant achievement.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Brilliant Sept. 2 2008
By Leslie - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Zeckhauser and Sandoski capture fascinating insights about fascinating people. Well-written and informative, this book has appeal well beyond the business world.
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