Sidetracked: A book review by Bob Morris

Sidetracked Sidetracked: Why Our Decisions Get Derailed, and How We Can Stick to the Plan
Francesca Gino
Harvard Business Review Press (2013)

A brilliant analysis of how we make decisions and why some decisions can be inconsistent with our original

As Francesca Gino explains, “Three different sets of forces influence our decisions in ways we commonly fail to anticipate: (1) forces from within ourselves, (2) forces from our relationships with others, and (3) forces from the outside world.” Gino shares and correlates the results of various studies that have examined the power of these forces and how they operate. It is important to keep in mind that these are not forces to control; rather, forces that can be managed, once understood. Hence the importance of this book, of its potential value to those who read it with an open mind and are willing to address forces within themselves — “that reside within our minds and our hearts, and exist because of the very nature of being human” — forces that probably cause more sidetracking than any others do.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of Gino’s coverage.

o Internal Forces (Pages 15-84)
o Perspectives on relationship forces (87-106)
o Social bonds (107-127)
o Salient social comparisons and evaluation (129-150)
– Wealth-based comparisons (137-147)
o Irrelevant information (153-174)
o Framing information that motivates behavior (175-198)
o Employee orientation (190-196)
o Ethical behavior and ambiance (199-221)
– What about our moral compass? (203-207)
o Dimensions and consequences of self-deception (210-219)
o Sticking to the plan for decisions (223-231)

I agree with Gino about the importance of formulating what can serve as a contingency plan for all manner of situations in which we would otherwise be unprepared. For example, “we rush into negotiations without taking the time to clarify our objectives, interests, and positions; the range of emotions we could experience during talks; and the information we have about the other side.” I presume to add another substantial benefit of having a pre-negotiation plan: understanding the forces within us will enable us to be aware of where and why we may be (or at least seem) most vulnerable.

Before concluding her book, Gino reviews nine principles to keep in mind when formulating and implementing plans (227-228). No brief commentary such as mine can do full justice to the wealth of information, insights, and counsel that Francesca Gino provides. However, I hope these remarks indicate why I think so highly of Sidetracked. Obviously not all decisions are sound. Those who read it will be well-prepared to create appropriate plans, then know which to protect from derailment and which to modify or abandon.

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