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.