An astute diagnosis of one of the biggest problems in business
Denial is the unconscious determination that a certain reality is too terrible to contemplate, so therefore it cannot be true. We see it everywhere, from the alcoholic who swears he's just a social drinker to the president who declares "mission accomplished" when it isn't. In the business world, countless companies get stuck in denial while their challenges escalate into crises.
Harvard Business School professor Richard S. Tedlow tackles two essential questions: Why do sane, smart leaders often refuse to accept the facts that threaten their companies and careers? And how do we find the courage to resist denial when facing new trends, changing markets, and tough new competitors?
Tedlow looks at numerous examples of organizations crippled by denial, including Ford in the era of the Model T and Coca-Cola with its abortive attempt to change its formula. He also explores other companies, such as Intel, Johnson & Johnson, and DuPont, that avoided catastrophe by dealing with harsh realities head-on.
Tedlow identifies the leadership skills that are essential to spotting the early signs of denial and taking the actions required to overcome it.
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?"