Book Reviews

Why Decisions Fail: Avoiding the Blunders and Traps That Lead to Debacles

Reviewed by James Redfield
Superintendent, Lester Prairie Public Schools, Lester Prairie, Minn.

The requirements for an emerging workforce will continue to change. The New Basics: Education and the Future of Work in the Telematic Age is the latest attempt by author David Thornburg to identify some of the educational requirements.

He argues that all students need the lifelong skills that he has identified from researching current job descriptions. The new basic skills are those that should be required of all workers, says Thornburg, a futurist and consultant.

In The New Basics, the author agrees with former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich that the new class of workers needs the skills of abstraction, systems thinking, experimentation and collaboration. In addition, he identifies the skills of digital-age literacy, inventive thinking, effective communication and high productivity as necessary for the present and future workforce.

Because curriculum reform is slow moving, Thornburg suggests these new basic skills be incorporated into current subjects and curriculum.

(The New Basics: Education and the Future of Work in the Telematic Age by David Thornburg, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, Alexandria, Va., 2002, 119 pp., $21.95 softcover)

Online Learning Today: Strategies That Work

Online Learning Today provides the reader with a no-nonsense guide on why, how, when and where to incorporate electronic learning. Though the book is intended mainly for those who design and deliver online training and performance management systems, school administrators will find the book’s content exceedingly beneficial when articulating the importance of e-learning to their many constituencies.

Co-authors Heather Shea-Schultz and John Fogarty, both e-learning researchers, draw from their professional experiences and thousands of hours of interviews with the top e-learning gurus to arrive at the conclusion that nearly anything can be effectively taught online. Even so, few elementary and secondary schools have paid heed to the merits of e-learning, a situation the authors believe will soon change due to such pressures as home schooling and the emerging global economy.

Each chapter begins with an e-learning case study. The salient discussion points culled from each case study then are analyzed using real-world examples and current research findings. This approach not only offers a general background of e-learning, it also exposes the reader to the authors’ seven core strategies of e-learning: catering to the learner, achieving buy-in, saving time and money, taming the technology, orchestrating the three sides of design, thinking globally while learning locally and partnering with purpose and passion.

Online Learning Today will serve as a primer for the administrator who wishes to better understand e-learning.

(Online Learning Today: Strategies That Work by Heather Shea-Schultz and John Fogarty, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, Calif., 2002, 200 pp., $18.95 softcover)

Why Decisions Fail: Avoiding the Blunders and Traps That Lead to Debacles

Boondoggles, fiascoes and debacles, oh my! No, this book is not about school superintendents in trouble with their boards, staff and communities. Paul Nutt, professor of public policy and management sciences at Ohio State University, in his newest book, Why Decisions Fail, gives us a sobering compendium of 15 cases from the business world that he describes as “monumental fiascoes.” These are not situations to emulate but rather traps to avoid to improve one’s own decision-making processes.

The cases are extraordinary. They range from the Ford Pinto exploding gas-tank nightmare to Firestone’s tire troubles Quaker Oats’s financially disastrous purchase of Snapple. The cases are analyzed with precision looking at every factor within the corporate leadership culture contributing to the blunders and exacerbated by the lack of adequate understanding of potential traps.

Every case becomes a collection of lessons which should give school administrators pause before trying to imitate the machinations of their corporate counterparts. The portrayal of huge executive egos and impatient temperaments among leaders and the mindless automatic responses by followers cause these world-class companies and governmental agencies to lose sight of their mission and to forget the ethical considerations needed to serve their constituencies.

But Nutt’s work is not an easy read. It can’t be skimmed. Just as quick fixes were at the root of problems suffered by corporations described in the book, shortcuts in trying to understand these debacles just won’t cut it. Tackle a chapter at a time and share the cases with colleagues and key staff. Better yet, buy each of them a copy and let them help you facilitate better decisions in your school district.

(Why Decisions Fail: Avoiding Blunders and Traps That Lead to Debacles by Paul C. Nutt, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, San Francisco, 2002, 350 pp. including index, $22.95 softcover)