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Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face---and What to Do About It Hardcover – March 4, 2010

4.3 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Author and Harvard business administration professor Tedlow (Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American Business Icon) asserts that "denial goes hand-in-hand with short-term thinking," a problem that arises when a business "that once might have focused on getting the job done now is concerned with getting done with the job." The history of industry is rich with such cases, a number of which Tedlow examines with thorough understanding of both business and psychology: the initial brilliance of Henry Ford's Model T assembly lines gave way to significant setbacks when they failed to take the threat of Europe's radial tires seriously; the "great" grocery chain A&P was sunk by executives who "celebrated the statistics they liked." Tedlow also surveys the "edifice complex," in which struggling but respected companies erect monuments to themselves (like the Sears Tower) rather than tackling real challenges. Contrasting successes include tenacious DuPont, Intel's chief truth-seeker Andy Grove, and Johnson & Johnson, which faced almost insurmountable challenges head-on during the toxic Tylenol crisis. Tedlow discusses ways to overcome the denial inherent to human nature as well as the institutional variety, cautioning against "yes" men, the vocabulary of euphemisms, and trash-talking the competition: "What am I using this derision to hide-perhaps from myself?"


“Richard Tedlow blends historical rigor with practical insights useful to today’s leaders—a rare and wonderful combination. His huge lesson—that the seeds of tragic demise are almost always visible, if only leaders would face them square-on—should terrify any successful person.”—Jim Collins, author Good to Great and How the Mighty Fall

“This lucid and scary history of our proclivity to deny uncomfortable truth is Richard Tedlow at his analytical best. But plan ahead before you pick it up. It is very hard to put down.”—Clayton M. Christensen, Author of The Innovator’s Dilemma

“In this absorbing study, Tedlow makes the case that the willingness to face harsh facts is what distinguishes great leaders from merely adequate ones. A must-read.”—Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook

“Tedlow’s book forces the business executive to ask: ‘Is this about me?’ If the answer is yes, you’ve got a problem. The stories presented here can help you work your way out of it.”—Suzy Welch, author of 10-10-10

“Tedlow’s book is a fascinating look at the phenomenon of denial. It’s a great explanation of why smart leaders act dumb, and what you can do about it."—Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert


Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio (March 4, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781591843139
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591843139
  • ASIN: 1591843138
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,705,378 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Richard Tedlow rises up to the challenge of dealing with the attractiveness of denial in the business world and how to successfully overcome it. As Mr. Tedlow puts it, denial consists of ignoring the obvious because there is no will to confront it. Denial has an irrefutable appeal because it can be rewarding in the short term. In contrast, denial rarely works in the long term in the business world (pp. 2-3). Resisting denial is not an all-or-nothing proposition that can be dealt with thoroughly once and for all with success. Denial-avoidance is a life's work for all individuals and organizations (pp. 204-206).

In the first part of his book, Mr. Tedlow convincingly demonstrates that companies that were once (very) successful can fall prey to denial, sometimes resulting in their loss of market supremacy. Think for example about the substitution of General Motors to Ford Motor Company in pole position in the 1920s, or the disastrous formula change of "Classic" Coke to better deal with the Pepsi Challenge in the 1980s. In the second part of his study of denial, Mr. Tedlow shows that after first agonizing over the necessity to change their modus operandi and/or business model, some companies such as DuPont and Intel made the necessary decisions to overcome a major crisis, at what Intel CEO Andy Grove calls a strategic inflection point in their existence (p. 58).

To avoid the fate of those who succumb to denial in the business world, Mr. Tedlow concludes his examination of denial with the following action plan:

1. There is no time to waste in dealing with denial. Tackling denial at a time of a crisis will often be too late.

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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The author has hit upon one of the most critical factors hampering leadership (and human) success. My expectations for this book were high...and I was disappointed. The stories about leaders who denied reality are well written and good and represent the vast amount of space in the book. The examples of those who succeeded in overcoming "denial" I thought were weak and not particularly enlightening. Push back the analysis a bit and most of what is in the book can be explained by the traditional S curve at that part of the breakpoint where the old no longer suffices and a brand new approach is required. The methods to address denial in leaders, what I really was eager for was actually meager. What I think could have been more helpful is more in-depth about how to recognize that one is in denial, how to set up systems before hand so that messengers can deliver in trust rather than fear, and how we can deal with the vale that protects our inner-self from less than perfection. I don't know after reading this more about how to keep myself from denying a new reality than I did before. I do appreciate the quality of the writing.
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Format: Hardcover
In a review of Jim Collins' "Good to Great," we discussed what qualities take a company from a "good" company to a company that's exponentially more profitable and/or successful than its competitors.

Taking a bit of a different approach, in his book, "Denial," Harvard Business School professor, Richard S. Tedlow, tackles how some of businesses most influential leaders put themselves in a state of denial as their minute challenges quickly escalate into nationwide crises.

Using a biographical-style narrative, Tedlow explores tribulations major organizations like Ford, Coca-Cola, Intel and Johnson & Johnson faced in order to determine how denying business trends and new competition threaten a company's livelihood, while others tackle those realities directly and launch the company into further success.

As always, a few of my favorite passages:

"In business, pretending that things are better than they are virtually ensures failure."

"Denial does not change reality. It simply makes reality tougher to deal with."

"Your view does not change the world -- the realities of which you will inevitably have to face sooner or later."

"Wood preached that a company had to grow. It was 'like an animal or a plant -- when it ceases to grow, it begins to decay.'"

"There appears to be a persistent belief in once-great organizations that have lost their way that if you simply avoid speaking the blunt truth, all the problems will just go away."

"Denial is not a matter of academic intelligence... it is a matter of attitude."

"Looking facts in the face is essential to avoiding denial, and before you can do so, you must ascertain what the 'facts' are.
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Format: Hardcover
By now, Richard Tedlow has gained and fully deserves his reputation for writing books and articles that are of the very highest quality. In Giants of Enterprise, he examines the lives and careers of seven entrepreneurial CEOs: U.S. Steel's Andrew Carnegie, Kodak's George Eastman, Ford Motor Company's Henry Ford, IBM's Thomas Watson Sr., Revlon's Charles Revson, Intel's Robert Noyce, and Walmart's Sam Walton. Then he wrote The Watson Dynasty in which he explains the causes and effects of what he characterizes as "the fiery reign and troubled legacy of IBM's founding father and son." More recently, he wrote Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American. In my opinion, it one of the two most important business biographies published in recent years, with the other being T.J. Stiles's The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt.

Denial is his latest book and, in my opinion, his most important and most valuable...thus far. As he explains in the Introduction, "Denial is the unconscious calculus that if an unpleasant reality were true, it would be too terrible, so therefore it cannot be true. It is what Sigmund Freud described as a combination of `knowing with not knowing.' It is, in George Orwell's blunt formulation, `protective stupidity.'" Tedlow acknowledges that there are several short-term benefits of denial (e.g. it is soothing, convenient, allows us to live in a world we have created and thus control..."while it lasts") and that is why it is so seductive. "Denial sometimes actually works," as with entrepreneurs who refuse to be discouraged despite the fact that the overwhelming majority of new businesses fail. Also, "the inevitability of catastrophe does not mean that we personally will suffer the consequences." In most circumstances, denial does work in the short-term.
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