THE TASK OF DECISION-MAKING is complicated by the weaknesses and contradictions in our knowledge. Proverbs may be wise, but they also contradict one another. Fools rush in. Yet they who hesitate are lost.
Research should resolve such contradictions, not add to them. Yet Chapter 6 suggested that decisions shaped by endless political “shoving and hauling” can turn out well. In contrast, Chapter 7 showed that firms can fail most successfully; that is, they may act in ways that are entirely rational and purposeful but that turn out to be self-defeating. Chapter 6 suggested that the importance of leaders in influencing the fate of firms is overblown. Yet Chapter 5 showed that overbearing leaders can eclipse wiser counsels and lead their firms over a precipice. Chapter 1 warns that success can tempt decision-makers to take undue risks. In contrast, the main message of Chapter 9 is that successful firms can become too cautious. Why do our theories and research tie us in knots?
The role of theory is to explain and to predict. Medieval astronomers made superb predictions. For example, the window nearest the north transept of the medieval church of St Cross near Winchester in the UK is angled so that the sunlight falls on the church cross on only two days of the year. These are May 3rd, the feast of the Invention of the Cross, and September 14th, Holy Cross Day. The positioning of these windows suggests that medieval astronomers knew exactly where the sun would fall on two ...