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Why Decisions Fail Paperback – June 15, 2002
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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 The Ohio State University. He received his Ph.D. (1974) from the Univer-
sity of Wisconsin–Madison and a B.S. and M.S. from the University of Michigan (1962, 1963), all in Industrial Engineering. He has written more than one hundred articles and six books. His current research interests include organizational decision making and radical change.
The decision-making stream of work, drawn upon to write this book, is taken from more than two decades of research into the decision-making practices used by people in organizations and how to improve them. Articles first appeared in 1984 and have continued at a steady pace since then, with several currently in press. In all, thirty-eight articles have appeared or will appear in referred journals and more are planned. This work has received numerous awards including two best theoretical/empirical paper awards from the Decision Sciences Institute, its top award, and several from the Academy of Management. His other work in decision making involves decision analysis, risk measurement, using MBTI and the Ennea- gram to identify a person’s decision style, Multiattribute Utilities, ethics, and learning.
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Centering on the moment where things went wrong, in each business case Nutt provides a succinct and easily readable summary, layering in additional details that outline the measures each company could have taken to avoid a decision blunder. In pointing out what not to do, Nutt employs a unique viewpoint to turn classic examples into fresh learning experiences. Examples of these historic business disasters include the famous Ford Pinto safety issue, Disney’s opening of a new European theme park outside of Paris, and financing the construction of the Denver International Airport. By providing just the right amount of detail, each case captures the reader’s attention and accurately translates complex scenarios into practical terms. There are these case studies that elevate the book to a three-star rating.
Nutt’s ability to use simple language is what distinguishes this book from similar research-based text. Instead of wading through technical jargon, the reader can focus on applying the fundamental lessons from each chapter to the case studies through easy-to-understand text. The inclusion of a “Key Points” section at the end of each chapter provides the reader with a comprehensive picture of the issues and subsequent advice discussed in each chapter. By ending the book with a summative final chapter, Nutt leaves the reader with a clear understanding of the text’s main takeaways.
However, Nutt’s intelligible verbiage does not completely save the reader from losing interest throughout his repetitive narrative. Nutt uses the ideas from prior cases multiple times without seeming to include additional insights. In our opinion, each chapter would have strongly benefited from being centered around a single case. Currently, with Nutt’s strong case overviews and clear “Key Points,” a reader might be better served by focusing on the connection between these key points and details of each case and as a result skimming the remaining text in-between.
In conclusion, if you can stick through Nutt’s somewhat convoluted, repetitive narrative and correctly connect the key points with each case, you will find yourself with a better understanding of how to approach decisions and, most importantly, a clear idea what not to do as a manager.
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.
Further, Nutt writes in a simple language that makes the concepts easy to understand and relate to situations in our own careers. He also utilizes real-world examples that are widely known, making it easier to conceptualize the information. Nutt’s research is thorough, credible, and obviously his passion in life. However, the large quantity of cases shared within the book leads to an information overload. With over twenty years of case studies, it is easy to lose sight of the main focus of the research. The wide variety of examples was overwhelming. It made remembering the takeaway points difficult as we set out to tackle the 15 case analyses and over 400 decisions. Due to the overwhelming amount of information, attempting to connect the lessons from chapter to chapter proved to be difficult. Nutt’s saving grace is the tables sprinkled throughout the text that summarized the process, outcomes, and suggestions for each decision. The other figures explaining the specific blunders and traps are also useful for reference post-reading.
The book successfully demonstrated the ways in which to avoid falling victim to bad evaluation practices, but it failed to hold our attention with its extremely repetitive content. Many of the blunders were similar in nature, making it difficult to identify any differences in the underlying reasons for the debacle. For example, the traps of “failing to take charge by reconciling claims,” “ignoring barriers to to action,” and “limiting search” have overlapping characteristics and are very similar in practice. These traps should be defined in a way that is easy to distinguish one from another and allows for successful application in real life scenarios. Again, this fault with Why Decisions Fail may relate back to the expansive scope of Nutt’s study. Narrowing the focus of the text would provide a clearer representation of the desired learning objectives and allow for better flow from chapter to chapter.
We feel that the main reason the book deserves a 3-star rating is author’s inability to condense the data into a concise, clear tool for business professionals. Improving the delineation between each trap would greatly improve the overall comprehension and usefulness of the material. Overall, we feel that Why Decisions Fail does a great job of demonstrating the importance of careful consideration in business strategy, but could be improved through editing and the addition of better summarization sections. In other words, less is more. As demonstrated by the study, today’s business professionals have enough trouble taking the time to understand the decisions before them without having to dig deep in their spare reading time. Therefore, Nutt would be more effective in conveying his points by simplifying the content of the book in order to better reach his readers.