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Know What You Don't Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen Hardcover – February 8, 2009

22 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

“Dr. Roberto has skillfully managed to blend in-depth research with his straightforward and enjoyable style and, in doing so, painted a masterpiece that should be considered by any institution or individual looking to detect or solve problems. Presenting cases and their lessons from multiple venues, he offers wisdom readily applicable to any arena.

Duane Deal, Brigadier General, United States Air Force (Retired)


“Solving problems is one thing; finding them early enough to do something about it is quite another. In this entertaining book full of insight and examples, Michael Roberto provides managers with hands-on recommendations on how to avoid falling into decision-making traps by getting a step ahead.

Sydney Finkelstein, Steven Roth Professor of Management, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth, and author ofWhy Smart Executives FailandThink Again


“In typical style, Mike Roberto gets right to the heart of major challenges facing businesses in today's rapidly changing landscape. He provides not only a burning platform for thinking differently, but also practical tools for busy leaders to implement following an ‘action learning' approach.

Jon Shepherd, Chief Learning Officer, Mars Inc.


InKnow What You Don't Know, best-selling author Michael Roberto shows leaders how to go beyond mere “problem solving to uncover and address emerging problems while they're still manageable-before they mushroom into disaster! Roberto first identifies the diverse, sometimes surprising reasons why problems typically fester in the shadows, ignored and unaddressed. Next, he systematically introduces seven powerful solutions. You'll discover how to become a business “anthropologist, observing how your employees, customers, and suppliers actually behave, not just how they're “supposed to behave. Roberto shows how and when to circumvent your gatekeepers to see crucial raw to “connect the dots among issues that seem unrelated, but are really signs of a deeper to promote candor among front-line employees...encourage “useful mistakes, and more. Along the way, Roberto offers powerful insights for overcoming the “isolation trap so many senior executives face: the trap that can keep you assuming everything is fine, while your company's problems are spiraling out of control!


• Watch your company's “game film-and your competitors'
Systematically understand how your company is really behaving and performing-and how you really match up


• Recognize the value of “small failures
Use small problems as a window on your system-and a signal of possible weaknesses elsewhere


• Get beyond the numbers, to the reality
Discover why too much formal analysis can actually hide your problems-and start leveraging the value of intuition


• Become a true business “ethnographer
Observe your people in their natural setting-and recognize what they're not telling you

About the Author

Michael A. Roberto is the Trustee Professor of Management at Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island, after six years as a faculty member at Harvard Business School. His research, teaching, and consulting focus on strategic decision-making processes and senior management teams. He is the author of Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer (Wharton School Publishing, 2005).


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: FT Press; 1 edition (February 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0131568159
  • ISBN-13: 978-0131568150
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #817,792 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

I am the Trustee Professor of Management at Bryant University in Smithfield, RI. I joined the tenured faculty at Bryant after serving for six years on the faculty at Harvard Business School. I love my family, Boston sports teams, teaching, Italy, history, gardening, and cooking.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Michael Roberto cites this especially relevant observation by G.K. Chesterton as a head note to the first chapter of this immensely informative book in which he stresses the importance of mastering seven sets of skills and capabilities that are essential to effective problem-finding. Roberto makes the same key point (among several) in his previously published book, asserting that the most effective leaders are those who "cultivate constructive conflict so as to enhance the level of critical and divergent thinking, while simultaneously building consensus so as to facilitate the timely and efficient implementation of the choices that they make." He goes on to assert that "effective leaders can and should spend time `deciding how to decide.' In short, creating high-quality decision-making processes necessitates a good deal of forethought." Throughout Roberto's lively narrative, there is a strong recurring theme: "leaders must strive for a delicate balance of assertiveness and restraint." In this book, he explains, "I argue that leaders must become hunters who venture out in search of the problems that might lead to disaster" for their organizations. Consider what Peter Drucker observed in an article that appeared in the Harvard Business Review in 1963: "There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency what should not be done at all."

The title "Know What You Don't Know" has all manner of critically important implications. Here are three. First, it correctly suggests that identifying and then filling knowledge needs requires the same "level of critical and divergent thinking, while simultaneously building consensus" that the problem-solving process requires.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Rolf Dobelli HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on June 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Sir Winston Churchill, Great Britain's intrepid prime minister during World War II, was an amazingly perceptive leader. He was one of the first to warn of the military threat Germany posed prior to both world wars. How did he know? He routinely sought out rank-and-file members of the British military and low-level English government bureaucrats to find the truth. In the same way, you should dig deeply into your organization for unbiased, accurate information so you can detect problems before they turn into disasters. In his case-filled, albeit pretty much one-note, book, management professor Michael A. Roberto explains why finding problems is harder than solving them. He shows how danger hidden beneath the surface can present the greatest peril to your company. getAbstract recommends Roberto's engaging book to managers at all levels. Spot those icebergs before they sink your business.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By John Gibbs on August 4, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Leaders need to become hunters who venture out in search of the problems that might lead to disaster for their firms; they cannot wait for the problems to come to them, according to Michael Roberts in this book. Unfortunately most business schools teach students how to solve pre-defined problems rather than how to search out the problems in the first place.

According to the author, there are seven critical skills which must be mastered in order to someone to become an effective problem finder:

* Circumvent the filters which prevent you from receiving accurate information, particularly bad news
* Observe how groups of people behave in their natural settings
* Search for and identify patterns
* Connect the dots amongst seemingly disparate bits of information
* Encourage people to take risks and learn from their mistakes
* Refine your communication skills
* Become adept at review and reflection

The book is based on almost 150 interviews with CEOs, business unit leaders and staff executives of small and large enterprises, relating to successes, failures and efforts to prevent failures from taking place. In my view there is nothing particularly surprising about the author's findings or the seven critical skills which he has identified, but perhaps that is because it is fundamentally impossible to reduce the skill of finding previously unidentified problems to a science.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful By BSBAz on June 21, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Drawing on examples as varied as the 9-11 tragedy and Anne Mulcahy's leadership at Xerox, Roberto explains why leaders need to be not only great problem-solvers but also problem finders. He describes the common reasons why leaders often miss seeing problems until a crisis occurs. He then offers seven practical methods of problem finding that any leader, manager or business owner can apply. An easy, fast and interesting read that will pay real dividends.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Eric van der Meulen on January 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This book explains why it is much smarter to be focused on problem-finding, than problem-solving. Implementing this approach means a cultural revolution in most companies I know. The idea is that if you can catch and address issues when they have just emerged, and not swiped under the rug yet, they are manageable. Illustrated with many examples and based on academic research, this is an engaging and refreshing presentation of seven critical skill sets that could make a life or death difference in your business. Much of this is applicable to project management as well. For example, there is a short list of key questions in the "Hunt for patterns" chapter that will help you scrutinize assumptions. Question 6: How would our conclusions change if each of our key assumptions proves incorrect? If you are ready to challenge your view of the reality around you, and think you can handle surprises, this book will be a delight.
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