Left Brain, Right Stuff: How Leaders Make Winning Decisions

Left Brain, Right Stuff: How Leaders Make Winning Decisions

by Phil Rosenzweig, Christopher Lane

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Left Brain, Right Stuff takes up where other books about decision making leave off. For many routine choices, from shopping to investing, we can make good decisions simply by avoiding common errors, such as searching only for confirming information or avoiding the hindsight bias. But as Phil Rosenzweig shows, for many of the most important, more complex…  See more details below


Left Brain, Right Stuff takes up where other books about decision making leave off. For many routine choices, from shopping to investing, we can make good decisions simply by avoiding common errors, such as searching only for confirming information or avoiding the hindsight bias. But as Phil Rosenzweig shows, for many of the most important, more complex situations we face—in business, sports, politics, and more—a different way of thinking is required. Leaders must possess the ability to shape opinions, inspire followers, manage risk, and outmaneuver and outperform rivals.

Making winning decisions calls for a combination of skills: clear analysis and calculation—left brain—as well as the willingness to push boundaries and take bold action—right stuff. Of course leaders need to understand the dynamics of competition, to anticipate rival moves, to draw on the power of statistical analysis, and to be aware of common decision errors—all features of left brain thinking. But to achieve the unprecedented in real-world situations, much more is needed. Leaders also need the right stuff. In business, they have to devise plans and inspire followers for successful execution; in politics, they must mobilize popular support for a chosen program; in the military, commanders need to commit to a battle strategy and lead their troops; and in start-ups, entrepreneurs must manage risk when success is uncertain. In every case, success calls for action as well as analysis, and for courage as well as calculation.

Always entertaining, often surprising, and immensely practical, Left Brain, Right Stuff draws on a wealth of examples in order to propose a new paradigm for decision making in synch with the way we have to operate in the real world. Rosenzweig’s smart and perceptive analysis of research provides fresh, and often surprising, insights on topics such as confidence and overconfidence, the uses and limits of decision models, the illusion of control, expert performance and deliberate practice, competitive bidding and new venture management, and the true nature of leadership.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In the follow-up to his 2007 book, The Halo Effect, Rosenzweig, a professor at IMD (Institute of Management Development) in Lausanne, Switzerland, looks at how leaders can make better business decisions when the stakes are high. While the standard advice for decision-making centers on being aware of our tendency for common biases and avoiding them, Rosenzweig argues that this rationale doesn’t apply to all types of decisions. Instead, he suggests that we address real-world, complex decisions through a combined skill set that he calls “left brain, right stuff”: “a deliberate and analytical approach to problem solving” and “the intelligent management of risk.” In order to show readers how to exercise our capacity for critical thinking, the author examines elements associated with decision-making, including exerting control, outdoing an adversary, and generating better performance in the business world. In addition, he discusses pervasive errors and biases that undermine our judgment, such as overconfidence. Executives will find Rosenzweig’s chapter on the distinctiveness of a leader’s decisions valuable, while academics will more likely appreciate his section on decision models. Although Rosenzweig’s advice is sound and his prose is highly readable, only the most determined executives are likely to sift through his considerable research, and benefit from his theories. Agent: Max Brockman, Brockman, Inc. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
“With compelling accounts and research results, Phil Rosenzweig takes us through the world of big, strategic decisions. They are thorny, complex, and risky, and he shows that they require analytic thinking, intuitive judgment, and personal confidence without certitude. Left Brain, Right Stuff delivers an invaluable framework for making good and timely decisions by all who sit in a leadership chair.” —Michael Useem, director of the Wharton Leadership Center, University of Pennsylvania, and co-author of Boards That Lead

Left Brain, Right Stuff will help (force) you to rethink what you thought you knew about behavior and decision making. It will show you how to avoid the traps that have been set by some very popular (and dangerously erroneous) writings on the topic. This book will surprise you, it will challenge your (and your colleagues’) thinking in a very productive way, and it will be fun to read. Read it twice: once for the enjoyment of it, and once for pragmatic applications. It is certain to provoke the right kinds of discussions within your management team, and to raise your organization’s hit rate for effective decision making.” —Adrian J. Slywotzky, partner, Oliver Wyman, co-author of The Profit Zone, and author of Demand

“No one thinks as clearly—and writes as clearly—as Phil Rosenzweig does about the diagnostic challenges of assessing the quality of business judgment and about the prescriptive challenges of improving it.” —Philip E. Tetlock, Annenberg University Professor, University of Pennsylvania, author of Expert Political Judgment: How Good Is It? How Can We Know?

Left Brain, Right Stuff intrigued me on a number of levels. By parsing strategic situations, Rosenzweig convinces us that we control more than we think we do. When we believe in ourselves, we increase the probability of a great outcome. Then add in an understanding of ‘winner take all’ competition and the need to assess relative performance (not absolute performance), and my eyes were opened wide.” —Joanna Barsh, director emeritus, McKinsey and Co.

“This fine book argues that the accepted tenets of behavioral economics are inadequate when dealing with strategic decisions in which the players can influence the outcome. The gripping stories neatly reveal the true complexity that is not captured in laboratory experiments, and put a needed reality check on the standard dogma of decision making. Essential reading.” —David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor for the Public Understanding of Risk, Cambridge University

Kirkus Reviews
Rosenzweig (IMD Business School, Switzerland; The Halo Effect: And the Eight Other Business Delusions that Deceive Managers, 2007) offers a different slant on how successful businessmen and other leaders assess risk. Cognitive psychologists have accumulated convincing evidence about how many of our decisions depend on intuitive thinking, a right-brain function, rather than left-brain, rational judgment. Numerous experiments have demonstrated how a positive mindset and reliance on intuition can play an important role in success in sports, but our right-brain rapid-response system may also lead us to overoptimism and biases that cloud judgment in other situations. The author concurs with Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman that it is necessary to be wary of gut reactions when we are faced with making decisions as investors or consumers, especially in situations that leave us open to manipulation. "That makes good sense when we're asked to make a judgment about something we cannot influence," writes Rosenzweig, but the story changes when it is up to us to make things happen. In a high-stakes, win-or-lose competitive situation, effective leaders need to evaluate intangibles. "When we can influence outcomes, positive thinking--even holding [overoptimistic] views that are somewhat exaggerated--can be beneficial," he writes. The author provides examples taken from real-life situations involving major corporate leaders--e.g., competitive bidding for government contracts or mergers and acquisitions--in which undue caution can be more dangerous than overoptimism. Rosenzweig's title deliberately recalls the phrase coined by novelist Tom Wolfe to describe an experienced fighter pilot's willingness to take calculated risks. Overoptimistically underbidding may mean taking a loss rather than making a profit, but it can also be a spur to creative solutions that cut costs. "Strategic decisions are not made by individuals acting alone," writes the author, "but are taken by executives acting within an organizational setting, who must mobilize others to achieve goals." A provocative reconsideration of the power of positive thinking.

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Read an Excerpt

One the people I admire most, the physicist Richard Feynman, once gave a lecture about science and religion in society. Feynman was no believer in miracles or divine intervention, but he saw no value in telling other people what they should believe. More important was that they think for themselves and learn to ask questions. Speaking about the holy site of Lourdes in southwestern France, where in 1858 a young girl claimed to see an apparition of the Virgin Mary, and which now attracts millions of pilgrims every year, Feynman observed: “It might be true that you can be cured by the miracle of Lourdes. But if it is true then it ought to be investigated. Why? To improve it.”

We might ask whether a person has to enter the grotto at Lourdes to get the full effect of its healing powers, or whether it’s good enough to come close. If so, how close is close enough? Is the healing effect is as strong in the back row as it is in the first row? Is it good enough for a few drops of the spring water to be sprinkled on your forehead, or do you have to immerse yourself to get the full effect? Feynman concluded: “You may laugh, but if you believe in the power of the healing, then you are responsible to investigate it, to improve its efficiency.”

The same goes for decision-making. Research has made impressive contributions to many fields, but hasn’t yet captured the essence of many real-world decisions. Our duty is to ask questions: How do decisions vary? What makes complex decisions different from the simple choices so often portrayed in experiments? The goal is to take the next step beyond what has become conventional wisdom—that people are prone to errors and biases—and to help you learn the keys to making great decisions.

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