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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking Pragmatism, 7 Aug. 2007
By 
Robert Morris (Dallas, Texas) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management (Hardcover)
According to Jeffrey Pfeffer, there seem to be three themes that unify many of the ideas he shares in this volume: "(1) the importance of considering feedback effects - the ideas that actions often have unintended consequences; (2) the naïve, overly simplistic, almost mechanical models of people and organizations that seem to dominant both discourse and practice; and (3) the tendency to overcomplicate what are often reasonably straightforward choices and insights." Pfeffer provides an abundance of examples of these and other especially common errors of comprehension and, worse yet, errors of judgment.

"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."
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Challenge your beliefs on management and organization, 9 July 2007
By 
Coert Visser "solutionfocusedchange.com" (Driebergen Netherlands) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management (Hardcover)
Jeffrey Pfeffer is an exceptional management author, who has written twelve great books, among which The Knowing-Doing Gap, Hidden Value, The Human Equation, and Hard Facts. His new book, What Were They Thinking, is based on a series of columns Pfeffer wrote for the magazine Business 2.0. In it, he covers a wide range of topics, from people centered management strategies to creating effective workplaces, using power strategies, thiking differently about success, executive pay and corporate ethics. The great thing in all Pfeffers writing is that whatever he says is so well argued and facts-based. If you're familiar with his earlier books, you will surely recognize many of the points he's making in this book. At the same time, however, there is a certain freshness in this book, maybe due to the fact that it is based on columns. Another reason is there are new examples from the corporate world, and there are many new research references. Friend and colleague of Pfeffer, Bob Sutton, has said this about him: "And no matter how strongly you disagree with him, he has this annoying habit of basing his arguments on the best theory and evidence in peer-reviewed academic publications. Plus when he writes about an unstudied topic, his logic is often so compelling that refuting his arguments is extremely difficult." When reading this book (and practically anything else he has written) you'll find it easy to agree with Sutton: it is very hard to disagree with Pfeffer once you follow his reasoning and evidence. Some of the chapters I liked best in this book were: The courage to rise above, Dare to be different, More mister Nice guy, Curbing the Urge to Merge, In praise of organized labor, Stopping corporate misdeeds. A great book. I think every student of organizational effectiveness should read it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking - challenges current thinking., 9 May 2009
This review is from: What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management (Hardcover)
This book was descibed by the Financial Times in a review which is a pretty good summary:

"Pfeffer talks a lot of sense. He provides a kind of alternative MBA in how not to run a business." FT July 17 2007.

The book provides 28 concise chapters full of insights/examples that question conventional wisdom. Each chapter encourages you to think in a more challenging way about a wide range of key topics - from people management and leadership to performance measurement and competitive strategy. The objective is to help you make the best possible decision for your organization. This is achieved in 80-90% of the material, in some areas this is not the case and the coverage is rather lightweight, hence four stars.

The content is based on a monthly columnn in the 'What works' section of a Business magazine, starting in 2003. The coverage was wide ranging but mostly focused on common mistakes that Pfeffer had seen in how companies manage their people and their business, and also how to do things better. The book was written to substantially expand this on this foundation, creating the opportunity to provide more examples and content, developing on 'Why it Works' - the underlying reasoning/analysis.

Pfeffer advocates a simple questioning approach, which I feel has a lot of strengths, that decision makers can follow:

1. What is the question or problem?

2. What are the possible solutions?

3. What is the best one, and how do we know that?

4. What must we do know?

Overall the book explains why executives make common mistakes and how these can be avoided. It certainly makes you consider things from a fresh viewpoint. Other authors and consultants do cover this ground to some extent, but not as widely as this book.

Stan Felstead - Interchange Resources - UK.
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What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management
What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management by Jeffrey Pfeffer (Hardcover - 1 July 2007)
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