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What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management

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What Were They Thinking?: Unconventional Wisdom About Management [Hardcover]

Jeffrey Pfeffer
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

July 10, 2007 1422103129 978-1422103128
Every day companies and their leaders fail to capitalize on opportunities because they misunderstand the real sources of business success.

Based on his popular column in Business 2.0, Jeffrey Pfeffer delivers wise and timely business commentary that challenges conventional wisdom while providing data and insights to help companies make smarter decisions. The book contains a series of short chapters filled with examples, data, and insights that challenge questionable assumptions and much conventional management wisdom. Each chapter also provides guidelines about how to think more deeply and intelligently about critical management issues. Covering topics ranging from managing people to leadership to measurement and strategy, it’s good organizational advice, delivered by Dr. Pfeffer himself.

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

There is much to laud about the objective perspective that Stanford professor and author Pfeffer brings to business. First and foremost, he calls em as he sees em, showcasing common management errors and building on four years as a Business 2.0 columnist. Trimming employees' compensation and benefits packages? Nothing is gained from that immediate cost savings, except plummeting morale and retention issues—as the airline and auto industries have learned. Thinking about a merger or acquisition? Think again, he urges; it's an easier strategy than fixing operations—but one that more often than not fails. No function or goal of corporate America is left unscrutinized, from strategy to human resources. Yet he softens his radical and common-sense opinions by offering a range of solutions and companies that practice them well. Pfeffer points to Whole Foods, to Larry Culp at Danaher, and to CEO Gary Loveman of Harrah's as leaders who have managed to set corporate priorities and agendas that succeed. Short chapters with clear-cut messages and examples allow time to contemplate and copy. Jacobs, Barbara


There is much to laud about the objective perspective that Stanford professor and author Pfeffer brings to business. --BookList, June 15, 2007

"Pfeffer talks a lot of sense. [He]provides a kind of alternative MBA in how not to run a business." --The Financial Times, July 17, 2007

The topics are diverse, from how companies get smarter to what to do about executive pay... --The Globe and Mail, October 24, 2007

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 241 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (July 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1422103129
  • ISBN-13: 978-1422103128
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #831,890 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
Jeffery Pfeffer takes the material in is recurring column in Business 2.0 and expands them into short vignettes on management and leadership topics. Normally, this approach does not work as either the book becomes a trite reiteration of previous material or the ideas that were good for a column are not robust enough for treatment in a book. Pfeffer does a superb job avoiding both as each chapter/thought is concise fully developed and warrants a couple of page treatment. A summary of each section and chapter highlights is at the end of this review. This book has the consideration and wisdom to be the true direct support managers need for managing their people, business plans, and ad hoc situations.

Pfeffer's focused and comprehensive treatment provides wisdom that every manager should have access to and frequently reference. I would suggest that executives and managers use this book as a cost effective tool for management development by followng three steps:

First, I would have every manager read the book now.

Second I would make it part of your planning process by requiring managers to re-read the book prior to doing their plans and budgets for 2008.

Finally, I would make sure the book is used in executive and corporate governance processes when many of the suboptimal decisions Pfeffer discusses get made. In that way executives will be informed and make a business decision rather than one that 'makes the numbers work'.

The book is good, but there are a few weak spots. Pfeffer is a world renowned organizational design and Human Capital expert and this shows in the book. The book can be a little people heavy to the exclusion of other considerations such as strategic, market, financial etc.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Thought-Provoking Pragmatism August 6, 2007
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 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.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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. This 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, thinking 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. Every student of organizational effectiveness should read it.
Coert Visser
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Published 1 month ago by Bernard F Alvey
3.0 out of 5 stars Medicine for the not-ill and for those looking to become stronger
Ironically those who really should read this book are unlikely to and those who do will find themselves already aligned with its line of thinking. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Abhishek
5.0 out of 5 stars One Of The Best I've Read
This is required reading for a class I am taking this Fall (MBA). I started reading it and found it engrossing. Read more
Published on July 31, 2011 by Look585
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book but the Kindle version can improve
This is a great book. I am still half way through it but really enjoyed the insights. I am not giving 5 stars to it only because of the quality of the Kindle version. Read more
Published on September 27, 2010 by Jiangmin Chen
5.0 out of 5 stars What are They Doing?
This book is a breath of fresh air. It's not the typical sugar-coated management book that says, "Everything is wonderful, but wonderful doesn't cut it any more. Read more
Published on June 29, 2009 by Nick McCormick
5.0 out of 5 stars A Summary of Wisdom!
Having read all of Jeff Pfeffer's works over the years it is great to have this concise summary of so much knowledge and experience ergo wisdom in one easy to read book! Read more
Published on May 5, 2009 by Robert N. Beck
1.0 out of 5 stars Not worth the time
Ok. I've seen the other review here on Amazon and must admit that I disagree. In fact, I think this book is dumb and was very disappointed. Read more
Published on January 7, 2008 by William F. Mccann
5.0 out of 5 stars Unconventional Common Sense
Continuing a campaign to induce more common sense thinking into business management, Stanford Business School Professor and well-published author(12 books at last count) Jeffery... Read more
Published on October 13, 2007 by Dennis DeWilde
4.0 out of 5 stars Easier Said than Done
All good information, and an interesting read. The concepts presented are not unlike many Marketing/Innovation books, but the author presents a good case. Read more
Published on August 29, 2007 by RaeLehman
4.0 out of 5 stars Maybe not as unconventional, but good
The book is maybe not as unconventional as the (American-style) title wants to make you think, but nevertheless good. Read more
Published on August 22, 2007 by Stephan Elser
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