- Hardcover: 241 pages
- Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (June 1 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1422103129
- ISBN-13: 978-1422103128
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 1.9 x 21.6 cm
- Shipping Weight: 458 g
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
#200,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #449 in Books > Professional & Technical > Business Management > Organizational Behaviour
- #749 in Books > Professional & Technical > Business Management > Management & Leadership > Decision-Making & Problem Solving
- #749 in Books > Business & Investing > Management & Leadership > Decision-Making & Problem Solving
What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management Hardcover – Jun 1 2007
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There is much to laud about the objective perspective that Stanford professor and author Pfeffer brings to business. First and foremost, he calls em as he sees em, showcasing common management errors and building on four years as a Business 2.0 columnist. Trimming employees' compensation and benefits packages? Nothing is gained from that immediate cost savings, except plummeting morale and retention issuesas the airline and auto industries have learned. Thinking about a merger or acquisition? Think again, he urges; it's an easier strategy than fixing operationsbut one that more often than not fails. No function or goal of corporate America is left unscrutinized, from strategy to human resources. Yet he softens his radical and common-sense opinions by offering a range of solutions and companies that practice them well. Pfeffer points to Whole Foods, to Larry Culp at Danaher, and to CEO Gary Loveman of Harrah's as leaders who have managed to set corporate priorities and agendas that succeed. Short chapters with clear-cut messages and examples allow time to contemplate and copy. Jacobs, Barbara
From the Back Cover
Why do so many companies make so many missteps—even while led by hard working, smart, and serious people who expend major time and effort trying to do the right thing? In What Were They Thinking? Unconventional Wisdom About Management, Jeffrey Pfeffer provides incisive and engaging responses to this question based on his popular business 2.0 column, “The Human Factor” Pfeffer shows how poor business choices arise when business leaders:
For example, when companies get into financial trouble, they often slash wages, benefits and staff. That boosts cash flow in the short run. But it also drives essential talent--and customers--out the door as service, quality and innovation vanish.
What Were They Thinking? contains twenty-eight short chapters filled with examples, data and insights that challenge conventional beliefs and much accepted management wisdom. Each chapter also provides guidelines about how to think more deeply and intelligently about a wide range of critical topics—from people management and leadership to performance measurement and competitive strategy.
Abounding with solid organizational advice—delivered by Pfeffer himself—this book provides the wise and timely business commentary you need to make the smartest possible decisions for your company.See all Product description
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"The message...is that we ought to think before we act, taking into full account feedback effects and using the insights of not only the large body of evidence on behavior but our own common sense and observations. It turns out both common sense and careful thought are in short supply. But that means there are great opportunities for those people and organizations willing to spend the effort to get beyond conventional management wisdom."
In one of his previous books (Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense), Pfeffer and his co-author, Robert I. Sutton, examine what they call "the doing-knowing gap": doing without knowing, or at least without knowing enough. "People kept telling us about the wonderful things they were doing to implement knowledge - but those things clashed with, and at times were the opposite of, what we knew about organizations and people. Upon probing, we soon discovered that many managers had been prompted by a seminar, book, or consultants to do things that were at odds with the best evidence about what works." Pfeffer and Sutton identify some of the barriers to what they call "evidence-based management" and recommend specific steps that leaders can take to overcome those barriers.
Whenever I read one of Pfeffer's books, I am reminded of Ernest Hemingway's observation that every great writer has "a built-in, shock-proof crap detector." For years, Pfeffer has challenged conventional management wisdom that is not supported by sufficient evidence. Consider this composite quotation from Chapter 25, "Don't Believe the Hype About Strategy," throughout which Pfeffer explains what is wrong with strategy as it has come to be known and defined:
"First of all, there is often much too much emphasis on the quality of the presentation and the pitch rather than the quality and business acumen of the ideas...Second, there is often a lot of emphasis on talk - on sounding smart - in the strategy formulation process and a lot of time sitting around thinking and planning instead of going out and trying some stuff, seeing what works, and learning by doing...[Despite] all the emphasis on strategy at the board and senior executive level, there is precious little evidence that it really is a source of success. The research on the effects of strategic planning generally finds it has no effect on corporate performance...[In fact] most successful strategies are simple...What is extremely difficult to copy - and what therefore does provide competitive advantage - is the way a company implements and executes its strategy...The other problem with today's overemphasis on strategy is the tendency to build in various forms of rigidity. Strategy, after all, is designed to tell a company not only what to do but what not to do - what customers and products and industry segments to avoid, either because they don't play to the company's strengths or aren't economically attractive. Or some combination of the two...[Therefore] develop your strategy adaptively, by using your company's best thinking at the time, learning from experience, and then trying again, using what you have learned. Building an experimenting, mistake-forgiving, adaptive culture provides a competitive advantage that lasts, because that sort of environment is much more difficult to copy than some dogmatic strategy. Under almost all circumstances, fast learners are going to outperform even the most brilliant strategists who can't adapt."
This composite quotation is representative of the thrust and flavor of Pfeffer's analytical and writing skills throughout the entire book as he offers unconventional management wisdom on a full-range of subjects. In addition to his thoughts about what's wrong with strategy, I also appreciated his contrarian opinions about building customer relationships, training expenditures, "taking chances and making mistakes," working long hours, interview objectives and hiring practices, "persistence," compensation incentives and rewards, and organized labor (i.e. unions). Ultimately, Pfeffer insists, decision-makers must follow a remarkably simple process that dates back at least to Aristotle:
1. What is the question or problem?
2. What are the possible answers or solutions?
3. What is the best one and how do we know that?
4. What must we now do?
Of course, mistakes are made when making decisions and/or when following through on them but at least it is possible to increase the percentage of correct decisions. I agree with Pfeffer on the importance of considering feedback effects because actions often have unintended consequences. I also share his disdain for "the naïve, overly simplistic, almost mechanical models of people and organizations that seem to dominant both discourse and practice." As for overcomplicating what are often reasonably straightforward choices and insights, Albert Einstein offers the best advice: "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler."
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
This is just one of dozens of nuggets in Pfeffer's fast-reading book. No wonder Jim Collins describes him as "one of the sparkling gems in the field of management."
Pfeffer packs a punch in each of his 28 short chapters. He applauds "noisy complainers" who point out errors so the systemic problems will get fixed. He champions IDEO's belief that "failing early and failing often is better than failing once, failing at the end, and failing big." He writes, "The principle is simple--learn and fail on a small scale."
Pfeffer's chapter on New York's Orpheus Chamber Orchestra will rattle your notion of leadership: there's no leader, nor conductor! And you'll reach for the Maalox when you read that "most people bring only about 20 percent of their talent and energy to their jobs." Buy the book. He has some ideas for all of us.
If someone is looking for a book full of advices how to deal with people, I suggest „How to win friends and influence people.“ by Dale Carnegie.