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Left Brain, Right Stuff by Phil Rosenzweig

An essential read on decision making.
Jan | 26 | 2014


Jan | 26 | 2014

Over the past few years, we’ve seen the release of a slew of books devoted to the art and science of decision making. Authors like Dan Ariely, Daniel Kannehman, the Heath Brothers, and many more have all penned tomes devoted to advancing the understand why we do what we do.

Some of these are better than others. For my money, Kannehman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow (affiliate link) is the best of the lot. At first glance, it might seem as if we need another book about decision making as much as we need another generic social media book–and we simply don’t need more of these types of books.

And you’d be wrong. Left Brain, Right Stuff: How Leaders Make Winning Decisions (affiliate link) is a remarkable and different take on the subject and I highly recommend it.

Life Is More Complicated than Lab Experiments

I am a big fan of Rosenzweig’s prior book The Halo Effect: . . . and the Eight Other Business Delusions That Deceive Managers. To me, it’s an accurate and important criticism of texts that retroactively trumpet the virtues of successful companies and vastly simplify the notion of success. (Think Jim Collins, Malcolm Gladwell, and especially Seth Godin.) The Halo Effect remains one of a very few business books that I’ve read twice.

Left Brain continues with this theme of questioning what we really know about a well-trodden topic. In this case, it’s decision making. Rosenzweig has a knack for shedding light on key areas that many books of this ilk have overlooked, misinterpreted, and/or failed to adequately address. Laboratory experiments by academics might tell us something about individual decision making in isolation, but it’s more important to focus on decisions made in the business world. And for that we need a new, context-laden framework.

Readers looking for simple five-point checklists will find this book wanting. To that I say, “Good.”

Rosenzweig challenges the reader to contemplate the context of real-world decisions. While this is much messier than the aforementioned experiments, it’s essential for us to ask questions like:

  • Is a reward based upon relative or absolute performance? And what is the relationship between the two?
  • Are payoffs distributed or even known? Is it “winner take all” or is second prize a set of steak knives?
  • Can the decision maker influence performance (as in business) or not (as in the lottery)?
  • When is it wise to adopt an ostensibly “irrational” strategy?
  • When–if ever–does the decision maker receive feedback? Immediately? Ten years down the road?

What’s more, Rosenzweig’s storytelling is fascinating. You feel like you’re at the table when the AT&T-Cingular deal went down. He complements his decision-making framework with interesting narratives of actual events (business, NASA). This is no theoretical text, but I walked away with a greater appreciation for the context of business decisions. I suspect that I’ll

Simon Says

Readers looking for simple five-point checklists will find this book wanting. To that I say, “Good.” Success in life and business hinges upon much more than pithy bromides. It’s messier and much more nuanced, and this challenging book is a breath of fresh air.

Also posted on Huffington Post.

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