At wits' end...
At wits' end...

My humble attempt at coming to terms with modern technology

An optimistic, happy-go lucky person who hails from Kerala, the 'Gods own Country'. As a passionate marketeer and an avid reader I enjoy sharing my views on Books, Social Issues, and Public Speaking.




At wits' end...

'Left Brain, Right Stuff' by Phil Rosenzweig

Ramya VasudevanRamya Vasudevan

I think I bought this book on a whim. First of all, the cover seemed well-balanced, with the mellow yet impactful 'sky-blue and yellow' background blending in well with the perfectly placed text in the center. The opening chapter was titled 'Crunch time on a Hot August Night', which definitely intrigued me. Usually, I keep a close watch on the list of the best business/strategy books in the market, but this one was clearly out of my radar - even the author's name did not evoke any familiarity. Yet, something in me compelled me to buy it.

In fact, anyone even with a faint acquaintance of business books will tell you that a book on managerial decision-making is quite commonplace. Having an audacious subtitle that reads: How Leaders make Winning decisions, didn't help either. In fact, the Business World is littered with books on this topic that this book could easily pass off as one of those regular ones. However, what differentiates this book from the others is its unusual treatment of this usual topic.

We all know that managerial decision-making comes with its own dirty baggage. In the face of a failed strategy, most of the so-called pundits, in retrospect, attribute it to the leader's over-confidence, arrogance, inexperience or a combination of these. If everything goes well, the leader is praised, or else, blamed. Phil Rosenzweig proffers that strategy decisions are much more complex than lab experiments, and any judgement based on the outcomes of these experiments should be considered inadequate.

Much mischief can be wrought by transplanting the hypothesis-testing logic, which flourishes in controlled lab settings, into the hurly-burly of real-world settings where ceterus paribus never is, and never can be, satisfied - Philip Tetlock, Psychologist

If you think about it, the complex decision-making in the real world has many characteristics which are very different from the laboratory experiments conducted under controlled environments. For example:

Phil wants to remind us that under such complex circumstances, winning decisions combine two very different skills - left brain, right stuff. Left brain is strongly associated with logical reasoning and problem solving. He says, Great decisions call for clear analysis and dispassionate reasoning. Using the left brain means:

These factors are important, but they're not enough. Additionally, Great decisions demand a willingness to take risks, to push boundaries and to go beyond what has been done before. Phil calls it the right stuff, which is all about the intelligent management of risk. Having the right stuff means:

Left brain and right stuff may seem like opposites, but they're complementary. For many decisions, they are both essential. Great decisions call for a capacity for considered and careful reasoning, and also a willingness to take outsize risks.

Real-world decisions demand the combination of left brain analysis and right stuff ambition

This book is divided into 12 chapters. It starts with some context-setting where Phil introduces the readers to a typical example of organisational decision making - competitive bidding - the high pressure, high risk scenario where the feedback is not instantaneous, the performance is relative, and the reward is highly skewed. The rest of the chapters try to deconstruct this situation into smaller elements, every subsequent chapter adding an new dimension to the art of making winning decisions.

Let's jump in and look at some of the highlights from the book:

In short, winning decisions call for a combination of skills as well as the ability to shift among them. We may need to act first as a psychologist, then as a tactician, next as a riverboat gambler, and perhaps, once again as a psychologist. In the real world, where we have to respond to challenges as they arise, one skill or another is insufficient; versatility is crucial. Even then success is never assured, not in the competitive arenas of business or sports or politics. Performance is often relative and consequences of failure are harsh. A better understanding of decision making, however, and an appreciation for the role of analysis as well as action, can improve the odds of successs. It can help us win.

It's a bit disturbing that, as the author of this post, it doesn't make me feel even a bit guilty that most of the content in this post is a direct reproduction of the book. My objective with this blog was to distill the book into a shorter version, while keeping its gist in tact. I feel happy having accomplished that to a great extent. Like I mentioned in the beginning, this book was an impulse purchase - but it was one of the best decisions of my life! I wanted to share it with you all.

Let me conclude than with this quote from David Spiegelhalter (Winton Professor, Cambridge University):

This book is a needed reality-check on the standard dogma of decision-making. Essential reading.

An optimistic, happy-go lucky person who hails from Kerala, the 'Gods own Country'. As a passionate marketeer and an avid reader I enjoy sharing my views on Books, Social Issues, and Public Speaking.