Denial -- the unconscious belief that a certain fact is too terrible to face and therefore cannot be true -- has torpedoed many good businesses and more than a few great ones. It turns challenges into crises, and dilemmas into catastrophes. It is one of the greatest obstacles business leaders face.
In Denial, Richard S. Tedlowtackles two essential questions: Why have so many sane, smart leaders refused to accept and act on the facts that threatened their companies and careers? And how have some executives found the courage to resist denial when facing new trends, changing markets, and tough new competitors?
To answer these questions, Tedlow takes an in-depth look at examples of people and organizations that were crippled by denial, including Ford, Coke, and Sears. He also shows how companies like DuPont, Intel, and Johnson & Johnson were able to acknowledge harsh realities about their products, markets, and organizations, and use that information not only to avoid catastrophe, but to achieve greatness.
Finally, Tedlow identifies common signs of denial to look for in your own company such as using jargon to mask trouble, or focusing on a glitzy new headquarters rather than the competition. Denial will always be with us, but some people are particularly skillful at battling it. This book can help you to become one of them.
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Starred Review. Author and Harvard business administration professor Tedlow (Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American Business Icon) asserts that "denial goes hand-in-hand with short-term thinking," a problem that arises when a business "that once might have focused on getting the job done now is concerned with getting done with the job." The history of industry is rich with such cases, a number of which Tedlow examines with thorough understanding of both business and psychology: the initial brilliance of Henry Ford's Model T assembly lines gave way to significant setbacks when they failed to take the threat of Europe's radial tires seriously; the "great" grocery chain A&P was sunk by executives who "celebrated the statistics they liked." Tedlow also surveys the "edifice complex," in which struggling but respected companies erect monuments to themselves (like the Sears Tower) rather than tackling real challenges. Contrasting successes include tenacious DuPont, Intel's chief truth-seeker Andy Grove, and Johnson & Johnson, which faced almost insurmountable challenges head-on during the toxic Tylenol crisis. Tedlow discusses ways to overcome the denial inherent to human nature as well as the institutional variety, cautioning against "yes" men, the vocabulary of euphemisms, and trash-talking the competition: "What am I using this derision to hide-perhaps from myself?"