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Speed Review: Think Again

Speed Review: Think Again

Speed Review: Think Again

Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep it From Happening to You

by Sydney Finkelstein, Andrew Campbell & Jo Whitehead

Why do smart and experienced leaders make flawed, even catastrophic, decisions? Why do people keep believing they have made the right choice, even with the disastrous result staring them in the face? And how can you be sure you're making the right decision--without the benefit of hindsight? Sydney Finkelstein, Jo Whitehead, and Andrew Campbell show how the usually beneficial processes of the human mind can become trapped when we face big decisions. The authors show how the shortcuts our brains have learned to take over millennia of evolution can derail our decision-making. Think Again offers a powerful model for making better decisions, describing the key red flags to watch for and detailing the decision-making safeguards we need.


Making the Good Call

Decision making is never easy, and few people know this as well as the executives who have made bad decisions while at the tops of their organizations. Mistakes happen, but there are ways for smart people to avoid dumb decisions.

While seeking an answer to the question of why capable leaders make bad errors of judgment, the authors of Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions and How to Keep It From Happening to You point out that there is more involved in decision making than a single person’s bad call. Every poor decision made actually involves two factors that must be examined to determine where the call went wrong. The first factor is the individual or the group who made the wrong decision. The second factor is the decision process that failed to fix the problem decision. Both of these factors are responsible for every bad decision ever made. In other words, the authors explain, bad decision makers do not do their damage in a vacuum: It takes both a bad call by an individual and a poor response by those who managed that call to make a bad decision.

Bad Decisions

With this insight in mind, the authors of Think Again use the latest insights from brain research and case studies from some of the worst decisions made in recent history, including those involved in the Enron disaster and the Hurricane Katrina debacle, to illustrate their points. These kinds of tragic stories fill Think Again with memorable highlights that show readers how to make better decisions in their own work and personal lives.

While the first part of Think Again focuses on how the human brain makes decisions, as well as how it can be fooled into thinking that a bad decision is a good one, the second part discusses four factors that create bad decisions. The authors call these factors “red flag conditions” because they offer valuable warnings to those who should be looking out for their presence before any decision gets made. These four sources of erroneous decisions are: misleading prejudgments, misleading experiences, inappropriate self-interest and inappropriate attachments. The authors offer a chapter on each of these problems to help decision makers defend themselves from the risks of bad calls.


To help those who make decisions improve their ability to spot their errors before they’ve caused any damage, the authors present four vital safeguards: group debate and challenge; experience and data; governance; and monitoring. Exploring each of these safeguards and showing decision makers how and when to use them, the authors have created a valuable guide for anyone who is trying to improve his or her ability to make tough decisions.

For example, the authors point out that John F. Kennedy failed to make a good call regarding the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba because his plan did not involve the safeguard of advice from key generals. Instead he limited himself to advice almost exclusively from CIA advisors. Having learned from this, Kennedy made a better call when he was faced with the Cuban Missile Crisis by using the four safeguards described in Think Again.

Using the experience, data and analysis safeguard, Kennedy gathered all of the available information he could retrieve about the number, position and capabilities of the Russian missiles in Cuba. Kennedy also used the debate and challenge safeguard by creating a decision process that allowed for debate among many different types of leaders with a variety of opinions. The governance safeguard came in the form of a proposal submitted to Kennedy’s governance team by a decision team to review it for any flaws in judgment. And, finally, to use the monitoring safeguard, Kennedy “opened extra channels of communication with Khrushchev to monitor the impact of the blockade on his thinking.”

Through examples from a variety of political, business and personal realms, Think Again shows readers what red flags look like in real life and how they can be diffused with strategic safeguards. Thanks to the authors’ thoughtful and straightforward examples and framework, their advice offers valuable help to anyone seeking to create a better decision-making process.

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