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Why Decisions Fail Paperback – July 15, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Nutt (management, Ohio State Univ.) has spent 20 years collecting and studying more than 400 decisions made by upper-level management in corporate, government, and nonprofit organizations. Here, he selects 15 decisions that led to debacles and gives the background for each decision, what went wrong, and how the problem could have been approached differently. Through these case studies and other examples, he reveals a number of traps he has discerned in the decision-making process, including limiting the search for alternatives to a manager's preconceived ideas, failing to learn from mistakes by not accepting their existence, and misreading potential opposition. The debacles cited by Nutt, all well known, include locating EuroDisney outside Paris, mislabeling BeechNut apple juice, and Ford's showing an unwillingness to fix faulty Pinto gas tanks. Nutt's thorough dissection of the debacles and explanation of the decision-making process makes this book essential for libraries supporting management programs, while his clear writing style makes it accessible to patrons at larger public libraries. Lawrence R. Maxted, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

About the Author

Paul C. Nutt is a professor of Management Sciences and Public Policy and Management in the Fisher College of Business at Ohio State University. He is the author of six previous books on transformation, leadership, strategic management, planning, decision-making, evaluation, reengineering, and related topics.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 332 pages
  • Publisher: Berrett-Koehler Publishers; 1 edition (July 15, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1576751503
  • ISBN-13: 978-1576751503
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #804,066 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Craig L. Howe on October 23, 2002
Format: Paperback
If we can accept Microsoft's statistic that more than 74 percent of the projects undertaken by business are behind schedule or result in failure, costing more than $74 billion a year, then this book is a bargain.
Ohio State University Professor Paul C. Nutt, who has spent more than 20 years studying how decision are made, says failures can be traced to three blunders and seven traps. Avoiding the blunders and the traps they set will cut one's failure rate significantly.
The blunders to avoid:
* Failure-Prone Practices
* Premature Commitments
* Wrong-Headed Investments.
These blunders lead unsuspecting managers into seven ensnaring traps:
* Failure to Reconcile Claims
* Failure to Manage the Forces Created by a Decision
* Ambiguous Directions
* Limited Search with No Innovation
* Misuse of Evaluation
* Avoidance of Ethic Questions
* Failure to Learn.
Sounds simple; yet anyone who has participated in a project recognizes these blunders and traps. In fact, most of us could supply the author with reams of case studies to add to the ones he uses to illustrate his points.
This is a great book and should be read by project managers and corporate managers alike. Microsoft's number may seem high, but there is no doubt we participate in too many projects that spiral behind schedule and over-budget. Good decision making techniques can only help improve our results.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Amy Russell on September 21, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book has some good examples and insights, but it could be better organized. I like the focus on step-by-step decision making processes, as well as the summary of key points at the end of each chapter. Many of the points are common sense, but seeing the way things play out in practice is helpful.

There are some punctuation issues and tense shifts, which are distracting, but the most glaring issue is the author's habit of mentioning an example briefly and then dropping it, only to return a few pages or chapters later, and then switching among several examples before returning to discuss the decision theory. The narrative thread can get pretty muddled at times. I wish he had chosen a structure and stuck to it (give example then use it to illustrate the theory; give theory then explain using an example; explain theory and example together; etc.) as he progressed through each section. Also, the author will drop casual references to things like product recalls and business conditions from the seventies and eighties, as though any reader would remember them. The book reads like it was written (probably over years) and then completely reorganized without being rewritten. It would really benefit from a thorough revision and restructuring.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Critical Grad on October 24, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I was assigned this book as part of a Master's degree course. Without having anything to gain from writing this review, let me just say that I fully recommend it to any faculty member looking for a good communication or business supplemental text.

Paul Nutt does the following well:
-Introduce concepts and best practices that can be utilized in any field
-Apply said concepts to a series of well-publicized blunders
-Explain how these concepts apply to these situations and how best practices would mitigate disaster in these situations

What Could be better:
-As another review said, the organization could have been better for this book, and it could benefit from a stronger introduction which helps to explain the structure of the book a little more.
-I also picked up a few typos and incorrect tense uses.

This is one of the few text books I plan to keep and even hold as a communication reference.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Hilary Lehman on October 12, 2014
Format: Paperback
Perhaps "Why Decisions Fail" could more accurately be titled "Why high-profile, non time-sensitive decisions fail."

The book has a wealth of information on processes that can gain buy-in and make for more successful decisions. The problem? Many of these processes have limited usefulness for readers beneath the executive level. For those making everyday decisions under tight deadlines, the processes the author lays out may be less useful. In addition, the author fails to capture the reader’s interest at the most critical juncture: explaining why decisions fail and how to avoid these failures.

The book’s greatest strength is its breadth of research. Author Paul C. Nutt spent over 20 years studying 400 decisions to create a formula for failure prone decisions, which in turn led to a guide in how to avoid re-creating these mistakes. Each chapter begins by clearly defining the given topic before introducing real-world examples, finishing with a review of key points discussed in the chapter.

Nutt outlines 15 cases but focuses on five main organizational cases of failed decision making: Euro Disney’s opening outside of Paris, Ford Auto’s release and recall of the Pinto, Beechnut baby food’s use of inferior ingredients and the subsequent cover-up, Nestle’s sale of infant formula in the third world, and Denver International Airport’s construction and opening.

The first few chapters are riveting, with each of these cases and failures explored in detail. Descriptions of Disney shareholders throwing wheels of brie at CEO Michael Eisner, or teenagers dying in a fiery car wreck, succeed in bringing these failures to real and horrifying life.
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