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Left Brain, Right Stuff: How Leaders Make Winning Decisions [Paperback]

Phil Rosenzweig
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Book Description

6 Feb 2014

Dozens of books have been published recently on the errors and biases that affect our judgments and choices. Drawing on cognitive science, their lessons are excellent for many kinds of decisions - consumer choice and financial investments, for example - but stop short of addressing many of the most important decisions we face in management, where we can actively influence outcomes and where competitive forces mean we have to outperform rivals.

As Phil Rosenzweig shows, drawing on examples from business, sports and politics, this sort of decision-making relies on mastering two very different abilities. First, the analytical problem-solving skills associated with the brain's left hemisphere; and second, what Tom Wolfe called 'the Right Stuff': the ability to take calculated risks. Bringing fresh and often surprising insights to topics including confidence and overconfidence, the uses and limits of decision models, leadership and authenticity, expert performance and deliberate practice, competitive bidding and new venture management, Left Brain, Right Stuff, the myth-busting follow-up to The Halo Effect, explains how to perform when making even the most difficult decisions.


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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Profile Books (6 Feb 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1781251355
  • ISBN-13: 978-1781251355
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 32,321 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Phil Rosenzweig is professor at IMD in Lausanne, Switzerland, one of the world's leading institutes of executive education. He is author of THE HALO EFFECT (2007) described by The Wall Street Journal as "a trenchant view of business and business advice," and lauded by Nassim Nicholas Taleb as "one of the most important management books of all time."

Phil's new book, LEFT BRAIN, RIGHT STUFF, extends our understanding of decision making. It examines decision making in complex real-world settings, where we can influence outcomes and often have to outperform rivals. Entertaining, practical, and often surprising, LEFT BRAIN, RIGHT STUFF takes a fresh look at topics like confidence and overconfidence, the winner's curse, the illusion of control, and the power of positive thinking.


Product Description

Review

Phil Rosenzweig has a gift for puncturing conventional business nostrums with hard data and critical analysis. And for writing business books that you can actually read for pleasure. (John Kay, 'Financial Times' columnist and author of 'Obliquity')

This fine book argues that the accepted tenets of behavioural economics are inadequate when dealing with strategic decisions in which the players can influence the outcome. The gripping stories neatly reveal the true complexity that is not captured in laboratory experiments, and put a needed reality-check on the standard dogma of decision-making. Essential reading. (David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk, Cambridge University)

Left Brain, Right Stuff will help (force) you to rethink what you thought you knew about behaviour and decision-making. It will show you how to avoid the traps that have been set by some very popular (and dangerously erroneous) writings on the topic. This book will surprise you, it will challenge your (and your colleagues') thinking in a very productive way, and it will be fun to read. Read it twice: once for the enjoyment of it, and once for pragmatic applications. It is certain to provoke the right kinds of discussions within your management team, and to raise your organization's hit rate for effective decision-making. (Adrian Slywotzky, author of 'The Profit Zone')

With compelling accounts and research results, Phil Rosenzweig take us through the world of big, strategic decisions. They are thorny, complex, and risky, and he shows that they require analytic thinking, intuitive judgment, and personal confidence without certitude. Left Brain, Right Stuff delivers an invaluable framework for making good and timely decisions by all who sit in a leadership chair. (Michael Useem, Director of the Wharton Leadership Center, University of Pennsylvania, and co-author of 'Boards That Lead')

Left Brain, Right Stuff intrigued me on a number of levels. By parsing strategic situations, Rosenzweig convinces that we control more than we think we do. Go one more step - by believing in ourselves, we increase the probability of a great outcome. Then add in what happens in 'winner takes all' environments and the need to assess relative performance (not objective performance), and my eyes were opened wide. (Joanna Barsh, Director Emeritus, McKinsey and Co,)

No one thinks as clearly - and writes as clearly - as Phil Rosenzweig does about the diagnostic challenges of assessing the quality of business judgment and about the prescriptive challenges of improving it. (Prof. Philip E. Tetlock, University of Pennsylvania, author of 'Expert Political Judgment')

Praise for The Halo Effect:

'One of the most important management books of all time

(Nassim Nicholas Taleb The Black Swan)

A telling indictment of the superficiality of much management literature ... explained with wit and vigour (Management Today)

As an antidote to the hype and nonsense that gets written about business, it is perfect. Rosenzweig is the Henry Fonda of the business world - juror number eight, constantly prodding us and asking: 'Are you sure? How do you know?' (Management Today)

Feisty and entertaining (Observer)

Offers a different slant on how successful businessmen and other leaders assess risk ... a provocative reconsideration of the power of positive thinking (Kirkus)

Book Description

The acclaimed author of The Halo Effect shows what recent books on decision-making have been missing.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
By Robert Morris TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
As I began to read this book, I was again reminded of passages in two others in which their authors address the same question that Phil Rosenzweig does: How to make better decisions? In Judgment (2009), 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."

More recently, in Judgment Calls (2012), Tom Davenport and Brooke Manville explain how and why decisions made by a Great Organization tend to be much better than those made by a Great Leader. Why? While conducting rigorous and extensive research over a period of many years, they discovered -- as Laurence Prusak notes in the Foreword -- "that no one was looking into the workings of what we term [begin italics] organizational judgment [end italics] -- the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader's direct control."

My own opinion is that this process resembles a crucible of intensive scrutiny by several well-qualified persons. Moreover, the eventual decision is the result of what Roger Martin characterizes, in The Opposable Mind (2009), as "integrative thinking.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The giant-slayer slays again 22 Jan 2014
By B. Gilad - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Phil Rosenzweig is a giant-slayer in the great old tradition. As everyone and his cousin jumps on the wagon of popular gurus, he takes a sharp counterintuitive approach and mercilessly exposes weaknesses, unfounded assumptions and sloppy reasoning. In The Halo Effect he did it admirably to Jim Collins and McKinsey. In his new book, Left Brain, Right Stuff, he takes on behavioral economics, decision-biases research, and the popular theme of the irrational man.
His basic argument is persuasive: experiments showing cognitive biases and irrational judgments apply only to particular situations- everything is held constant but one variable and subjects have no influence over outcomes. In real strategic decisions, he claims, none of this is true. Real strategic decisions have no fixed or random outcomes like, say, gambles, have a long time dimension, and involve considerations of relative (to competitors) performance, a theme he highlighted in his earlier book as well.

According to Rosenzweig, people who undertake strategic decisions – executives and entrepreneurs – need left-brain analysis but also the willingness to take on risks. They need confidence even when others hesitate. For those decisions, Rosenzweig asks, how do we know if they were made correctly and how can we help the decision maker make better ones? Most popular books on the subject analyze ex-post outcomes and deduce backward. If the outcome is bad, the executive is typically blamed for “overconfidence”. But judging based on outcomes suffers from the halo effect. So we need to explore decisions ex ante. Besides, asks Rosenzweig, overconfident compared to what?

His exploration of strategic decisions is fascinating, though not all his points have the same powerful appeal as the delusions described in The Halo Effect. For one, it can be claimed that confidence should always be measured against the available information at the time (so-called early warning signals) plus careful exploration of alternatives (the Otherwise question popularized by Mark Chussil). Executives and politicians constantly engage in distortion of information, not just biased judgment, so blind spots leading to unwarranted confidence are real.

The best part of the book is Rosenzweig’s case studies of big, real decisions by real executives. They read like a good thriller. His conclusion that if you believe in your success even against big odds you raise your chance of success (so-called positive thinking) is not new but his approach, using Type I error and Type II error, to justify this is fresh.

Rosenzweig reminds us that those who are confident even in excess and are therefore willing to take calculated risks benefit society as a whole. Without risks and a bias towards action, there is no progress. This is an important analysis of strategic decisions in the private sector, where influence over outcomes is based on free choice by customers. His extension of this reasoning to government and presidents is much weaker, as he does not explore the difference between influence over outcomes through better performance than rivals and control over outcomes through the threat of force. In the eyes of many, the latter puts the whole notion of “progress” in question.

Overall, though, this is an important book on how strategic decisions are actually made in the real world. Every manager should read it.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Understanding Decision-Making Better in a Competitive Setting! 2 Feb 2014
By Omar Halabieh - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I recently finished reading Left Brain Right Stuff - How Leaders Make Winning Decisions by Phil Rosenzweig. The author had graciously provided me with a copy of his new book, as I had previously read and reviewed an earlier work of his (The Halo Effect).

Below are key excerpts from the book that I found particularly insightful:

1- "They make predictable errors, or biases, which often undermine their decisions. By now we're familiar with many of these errors, including the following: -People are said to be overconfident, too sure of themselves and unrealistically optimistic about the future. -People look for information that will confirm what they want to believe, rather than seeking information that might challenge their hopes. -People labor under the illusion of control, imagining they have more influence over events than they really do. -People are fooled by random events, seeing patterns where none exist. People are not good intuitive statisticians, preferring a coherent picture to what makes sense according to the laws of probability. -People suffer from a hindsight bias, believing that they were right all along."

2- "Yet for all we know about these sorts of decisions, we know less about others. First, many decisions involve much more than choosing from options we cannot influence or evaluations of things we cannot affect...Second, many decisions have a competitive dimension...Third, many decisions take a long time before we know the results...Fourth, many decisions are made by leaders of organizations...In sum, experiments have been very effective to isolate the processes of judgment and choice, but we should be careful when applying their findings to very different circumstances."

3- "Great decisions call for clear analysis and dispassionate reasoning. Using the left brain means: -knowing the difference between what we can control and what we cannot, between action and prediction -knowing the difference between absolute and relative performance, between times when we need to do well and when we must do better than others -sensing whether it's better to err on the side a' taking action and failing, or better not to act; that is, between what we call Type I and Type II errors -determining whether we are acting as lone individuals or as leaders in an organizational setting and inspiring others to achieve high performance -recognizing when models can help us make better decisions, but also being aware of their limits."

4- "Having the right stuff means: -summoning high levels of confidence, even levels that might seem excessive, but that are useful to achieve high performance -going beyond past performance and pushing the envelope to seek levels that are unprecedented -instilling in others the willingness to take appropriate risks."

5- "Moore and his colleagues ran several other versions of this study, all of which pointed to the same conclusion: people do not consistently overestimate their level of control. A simpler explanation is that people have an imperfect understanding of how much control they can exert. When control is low they tend to overestimate. but when it's high they tend to underestimate."

6- "Of course managers don't have complete control over outcomes. any more than a doctor has total control over patient health. They are buffeted by events outside their control: macroeconomic factors, changes in technology, actions of rivals, and so forth. Yet it's a mistake to conclude that managers suffer from a pervasive illusion of control. The greater danger is the opposite: that they will underestimate the extent of control they truly have."

7- "If you believe there's an intense pressure to outperform rivals when that's not the case, you might prefer a Type 1 error. You might take action sooner than necessary or act more aggressively when the better approach would be to wait and observe. The risks can be considerable, but perhaps not fatal On the other hand, if performance is not only relative but payoffs are highly skewed, and you don't make every effort to outperform rivals, you'll make a Type II error. Here the consequences can be much more severe. Fail now, and you may never get another chance to succeed. By this logic, the greater error is to underestimate the intensity of competition. It's to be too passive in the face of what could be a mortal threat. When in doubt, the smart move is to err on the side of taking strong action."

8- "The lesson is clear: in a competitive setting, even a modest improvement in absolute performance can have a huge impact on relative performance. And conversely, failing to use all possible advantages to improve absolute performance has a crippling effect on the likelihood of winning. Under these circumstances, finding a way to do better isn't just nice to have. For all intents and purposes, it's essential."

9- "First, not even thing that turns out badly is due to an error. We live in a world of uncertainty, in which there's an imperfect link between actions and outcomes. Even good decisions sometimes turn out badly, but that doesn't necessarily mean anyone made an error. Second, not every error is the result of overconfidence. There are many kinds off error: errors of calculation, errors of memory, simple motor errors, tactical errors, and so forth. They're not all due to overconfidence."

10- "The Trouble with Overconfidence," the single word—overconfidence—has been used to mean three very different things, which they call overprecision, overestimation, and overplacement...Overprecision is the tendency to be too certain that our judgment is correct...He's referring to overprecision: the tendency to believe a prediction is more accurate than it turns out to be...Overestimation, the second kind of overconfidence, is a belief that we can perform at a level beyond what is objectively warranted...Overestimation is an absolute evaluation; it depends on an assessment of ourselves and no one else...Overplacement, the third kind of overconfidence, is a belief that we can perform better than others...She calls it the superiority bias and says it's a pervasive error."

11- "My suggestion is that anyone who uses the term should have to specify the point of comparison. If overconfidence means excessively confident, then excessive compared to what? In much of our lives, where we can exert control and influence outcomes, what seems to be an exaggerated level of confidence may be useful; and when we add the need to outperform rivals, such a level of confidence may even be essential."

12- "When we have ability to shape events we confront a different challenge: making accurate estimates of future performance. The danger here is not one of overlooking the base rate of the broader population at a point in time, but neglecting lessons of the past and making a poor prediction of the future. Very often people place great importance on their (exaggerated) level of skills and motivation. The result is to make forecasts on what Kahneman and Tversky call the inside view. Unfortunately these projections, which ignore the experiences of others who have attempted similar tasks, often turn out to be wildly optimistic."

13-"The question we often hear—how much optimism or confidence is good, and how much is too much—turns out to be incomplete. There's no reason to imagine that optimism or confidence must remain steady over time. It's better to ramp it up and down, emphasizing a high level of confidence during moments of implementation, but setting it aside to learn from feedback and find ways to do better."

14- "Duration is short, feedback is immediate and clear, the order is sequential, and performance is absolute. When these conditions hold, deliberate practice can be hugely powerful. As we relax each of them, the picture changes. Other tasks are long in duration, have feedback that is slow or incomplete, must be undertaken concurrently, and involve performance that is relative. None of this is meant to suggest their deliberate practice isn't a valuable technique. But we have to know when it's useful and when it's not."

15- "When we use models without a clear understanding of when they are appropriate, we're not going to make great decisions—no matter how big the data set or how sophisticated the model appears to be."

16- "To get at the root of the problem, Capen looked at the auction process itself. He discovered an insidious dynamic: when a large number of bidders place secret bids, it's almost inevitable that the winning bid will be too high. Capen called this the winner's curse."

17- "But do some kinds of acquisitions have a greater chance of success than others? A significant number—the other 36 percent were profitable, and they turned out to have a few things in common. The buyer could identify clear and immediate gains. rather than pursuing vague or distant benefits. Also, the gains they expected came from cost savings rather than revenue growth. That's a crucial distinction, because costs are largely within our control, whereas revenues depend on customer behavior, which is typically beyond our direct control."

18- "The real curse is to apply lessons blindly, without understanding how decisions differ. When we can exert control, when we must outperform rivals, when there are vital strategic considerations, the greater real danger is to fail to make a bold move. Acquisitions ah ways involve uncertainty, and risks are often considerable. There's no formula to avoid the chance of losses. Wisdom calls for combining clear and detached thinking—properties of the left brain—with the willingness to take bold action—the hallmark of the right stuff."

19- "Starting a new business involves many of the same elements we have seen in other winning decisions: an ability to distinguish between what we can control and what we cannot; a sense of relative performance and the need to do better than rivals; the temporal dimension, in which decisions do not always produce immediate feedback; and an awareness that decisions are made in a social context, in which leaders sometimes need to inspire others to go beyond what may seem possible. Together, these elements help new ventures get off to a winning start."

20- "To make great decisions, we need above all to develop the capacity to question, to go beyond first-order observations and pose incisive second-order questions. An awareness of common errors and cognitive biases is only a start. Beyond that, we should ask: Are we making a decision about something we cannot control, or are we able to influence outcomes?...Are we seeking an absolute level of performance, or is performance relative?...Are we making, a decision that lends itself to rapid feedback, so we can make adjustments and improve a next effort?...Are we making a decision as an individual or as a leader in a social setting?...Are we clear what we mean by overconfidence?...Have we given careful thought to base rates, whether of the larger population at a point in time or historical rates of past events?...As for decision models, are we aware of their limits as well as strengths?...When the best course of action remains uncertain, do we have a sense of on which side we should err?"

21- "In his profile of longtime St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa, Buzz Bissinger wrote that a baseball manager requires "the combination of skills essential to the trade: part tactician, part psychologist, part river-boat gambler." That's a good description for many kinds of strategic decision makers. The tactician plays a competitive game, anticipating the way a given move may lead to a counter-move and planning the best response. The psychologist knows how to shape outcomes by inspiring others, perhaps by setting goals or by offering encouragement or maybe with direct criticism. The riverboat gambler knows that outcomes aren't just a matter of cold numbers and probabilities, but that it's important matter of cold numbers and probabilities, but that it's important to read an opponent so as to know when to raise the stakes, when to bluff, and when to fold. 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 success. It can help us win."
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making better personal and professional decisions 26 Jan 2014
By Mike Brice - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
The decision to read Left Brain Right Stuff is one of the best choices I have made. The author uses a series of interesting stories and examples to build a framework for improved decision making whether it is an individual or as a leader, and explains how the decision making process in those two situations can and should be approached differently.

Even if you understand the normal biases that influence your decision making, the author offers a series of questions that you can use to increase the potential for a positive outcome while minimizing the downside.

Some of the key points include recognizing what you can't control and what you can influence, and if the decision will be judged based on absolute or relative performance. These and other questions help you determine if the best course of action is to act even if you might be wrong, or if you are better off to not act.

I have written the questions on a piece of paper and posted (next to the sheet summarizing The Halo Effect) in my home and work offices as a constant reference, and believe that referring to them before significant personal and professional decisions will result in better outcomes.
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why understanding the decision making process as well as the roles of action and analysis "can improve the odds of success" 24 Jan 2014
By Robert Morris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
As I began to read this book, I was again reminded of passages in two others in which their authors address the same question that Phil Rosenzweig does: How to make better decisions? In Judgment (2009), 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."

More recently, in Judgment Calls (2012), Tom Davenport and Brook Manville explain how and why decisions made by a Great Organization tend to be much better than those made by a Great Leader. Why? While conducting rigorous and extensive research over a period of many years, they discovered -- as Laurence Prusak notes in the Foreword -- "that no one was looking into the workings of what we term [begin italics] organizational judgment [end italics] -- the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader's direct control."

My own opinion is that this process resembles a crucible of intensive scrutiny by several well-qualified persons. Moreover, the eventual decision is the result of what Roger Martin characterizes, in The Opposable Mind (2009), as "integrative thinking." That is, each of those involved has "the predisposition and the capacity to hold two [or more] diametrically opposed ideas" in mind and then "without panicking or simply settling for one alternative or the other," helps to "produce a synthesis that is superior to either opposing idea."

Rosenzweig asserts -- and I agree -- that what he calls "winning decisions" combine two very different skills. He calls them left brain and right stuff. "Left brain is shorthand for a deliberate and analytical approach to problems solving," a process that inevitably involves asking the right questions and then answering them correctly. Otherwise, there is the very serious danger to which Peter Drucker referred decades ago: "There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all."

"Great decisions also demand a willingness to take risks, to push boundaries and to go beyond what has been done before. They call for something we call the right stuff." That means "summoning high levels of confidence, even levels that might seem excessive, but that are useful to achieve high performance." Left brain and right stuff may seem like opposites "but they're complementary. For many decisions they're both essential...Great decisions call for a capacity for considered and careful reasoning, and also a willingness to take outsize risks."

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Rosenzweig's coverage.

o The Key to great decisions: Left Brain, Right Stuff (Pages 15-22)
o Control issues (23-44)
o Performance: Absolute and Relative (45-62)
o Overconfidence in the here and now: Not one thing but three (88-93)
o Barriers of nature or barriers of engineering? (118-121)
o Apollo missions (149-154)
o Authenticity, reconsidered (154-158)
o Decision models (165-190)
o The Texas size shoot-out for AT&T Wireless (206-213)
o Cloud computing/VMware (224-229)
o Managing risks, seeking rewards (229-233)
o Another look at laboratory evidence (234-237)
o Beyond rational and irrational (244-247)

With regard to "Better questions for winning decisions" (247-252), Rosenzweig asserts, "To make great decisions, we need above all to develop the capacity to question, to go beyond the first-order observations and pose incisive second-order questions. An awareness of common errors and cognitive biases is only a start." He poses seven lead questions that have been previously stated or at least implied throughout his lively and eloquent narrative, accompanied by a few others that will also help us to drill down past symptoms, assumptions, biases, etc. so that we can identify root causes. This is a process of both elimination and simplification, one that is much easier to describe than it is to conduct just as questions such as "Are we making a decision about something we cannot control, or are we able to influence outcomes?" are much easier to ask than to answer.

Long ago, Voltaire suggested that we cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it. Phil Rosenzweig is among those who tenaciously seek the truth but seldom (if ever) claim to have found it. With all due respect to recent research in neuroscience, there is still much to be learned about how to make better decisions. In this book, however, the information, insights, and counsel provided increase our understanding of how not to.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you read one book on contemporary decision making, make it this one 26 Jan 2014
By Phil Simon - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I am a big fan of Rosenzweig's prior book The Halo Effect. To me, it's an important criticism of ex post facto management texts that trumpet the virtues of successful companies. Left Brain continues with this theme of questioning what we think we know about decision making.

Rosenzweig has a knack for letting the reader understand areas that many books of this ilk overlook-or fail to adequately address. For instance, laboratory experiments might tell us something about individual decision making in isolation, but how many of these decisions are made in the business world? Very few.

Rosenzweig challenges the reader to think about the context of real-world decisions, and this is much messier than the aforementioned experiments. Is the reward based upon relative or absolute performance? What is the relationship between the two? Are the payoffs distributed or even known? Is it "winner take all" or is second prize a set of steak knives? Can the decision maker influence performance (as in business) or not (as in the lottery)? When is it wise to adopt an ostensibly "irrational" strategy?

What's more, Rosenzweig's storytelling is fascinating. He weaves his framework into interesting narratives of actual events (business, NASA).

Readers looking for simple five-point checklists will find this book wanting. Good. Success in life and business hinges upon much more than pithy bromides. It's much more nuanced, and this is challenging book is a breath of fresh air.
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