Book Reviews
Left Brain, Right Stuff by Phil Rosenzweig: Book Review

Why real-world decisions require a combination of left-brain analysis and right-brain ambition

As we know, individuals are prone to various biases, such as looking for information that will confirm what they believe (confirmation bias) or have the illusion of control and imagine that they have more influence on events than they actually do. They also tend to suffer from hindsight bias. That’s the domain of behavioural science. But while several lessons can be learnt from various experiments in human behaviour, many of these lessons may not be applicable to business decisions.

Phil Rosenzweig, a professor at IMD (Institute of Management Development) in Lausanne, Switzerland, focuses his attention on business thinking and managerial decision-making. He points out that apart from behavioural biases, many other factors are at play in business, such as competition, ambition, etc. While research experiments have been effective in isolating the processes of judgement and choice, they occur in a context far removed from the realities that strategic decision-makers face, the author states.

He argues that academic researchers may not be asking the right questions to judge decision-making. Often, researchers give a series of questions (such as the length of the Nile, the year Mozart was born and so on), asking participants to state a range, that they were confident, contained the correct answer. If the range is too narrow, the researcher concludes that the person is overconfident. However, when it comes to making managerial decisions, some level of confidence is required; it may appear excessive to some while others may feel it’s necessary.

People are said to be normally overconfident, too sure about themselves and unrealistically optimistic about the future. But while making business decisions, it may be essential to be confident. As mentioned earlier, many studies of judgements and choice avoid competition. However, in the corporate world, there is a competitive dimension, when we have to do better than others and how to think strategically is crucial. In competitive situations, not only is a high level of confidence useful, it can be essential. The author dedicates an entire chapter to dealing with confidence.

The standard advice for making better decisions is to be aware of the tendency for common biases and find ways to avoid them. The left brain is used for a deliberate and analytical approach to problem-solving. However, problem-solving isn’t entirely a left brain activity. Also, it does not mean either that artists rely exclusively on their right brain. But the left brain is strongly associated with logical reasoning.Therefore, great decisions call for clear analysis and dispassionate reasoning.

The left brain helps in identifying the difference in what we can control and what we can’t, whether to act or not to act, and also to recognise models. Along with the left brain analytical abilities, the ‘right stuff’ is also required such as going beyond past performance and seeking higher levels. The right stuff is about the intelligent management of risk. Real-world decisions require a combination of left brain analysis and rightbrain ambition, he says.

As many as eight chapters of this book cover elements associated with the left brain. These enumerate how to make a fundamental distinction between decisions whose outcomes we cannot control and those which we can. In the chapter on when are winners cursed, he explains that, while taking part in an auction, the apparent winner often ends up the loser by bidding more than the value of the product. The same goes for buying companies. Most acquisitions fail to deliver value and the reason is that excessive bids stem from overconfidence. Some managers do overestimate their ability to drive revenue growth and cost savings.

Winning decisions call for a combination of skills as well as overcoming behavioural biases. Though success is never assured when a decision is made, it is essential to know that the role of analysis and the process of implementation can influence the odds of success. Phil Rosenzweig gets an approving nod from Nassim Taleb who is a merciless critic. Taleb holds the author in high esteem


Go Green, Grow-Trees

Grow-Trees helps the environment by bringing in corporate systems, processes and a feel-good factor into the simple task of planting trees.

When Pradip Shah, the founder-managing director of CRISIL (Credit Research and Information Services of India Limited) provided technical assistance to a credit rating agency in India, they didn’t honour him with a memento or a plaque. Instead, they planted 100 trees in his honour. The idea to do something similar began to germinate in his mind ever since. Finally, on 5 June 2010, World Environment Day, he teamed up with his son Karan to launch a social enterprise called Grow-Trees. Ask someone who lives in a city or even a town about when was the last time they planted a tree and you would probably draw a blank stare. Some would mumble about not having the time, space or opportunity. Grow-Trees provides the answer; it allows you to do so by clicking a few keys. provides a platform to individuals or companies to plant a tree on public land and offer those trees through co-branded e-Tree Certificates. It also allows you to gift a tree in a manner that is convenient and affordable as well as the satisfaction of doing something for the environment.  

“Our idea is to inculcate the practice of planting trees amongst companies and individuals through the web and to dedicate trees to greet or honour someone by means of an e-certificate with a personalised message. Companies can also put their logo on the certificate,” says Pradip Shah, who is now handling this alone while son Karan has taken a sabbatical to get an MBA from Harvard Business School. Recalling the early days of starting the enterprise, he says, “There were a few hurdles like finding credible planting partners, creating a user-friendly website, creating a good team,” but its record of planting over 674,000 trees in under four years, tells its own story. “These projects benefit wildlife as well as rural communities. A study in our planting area in Panchmahal found that villagers would have to spend 40% of their cash income on cooking fuel alone if they did not get biomass from trees!” says Mr Shah. If you want to plant a tree in someone’s memory or as a birthday gift, you can do it for just Rs60. The recipient gets a personalised e-certificate on the date specified; the person gifting also receives a confirmation email—all online. Since the trees are planted on government land, you can even choose the location of your tree.

The major projects so far are: 100,000-tree project at Kumbhalgarh Sanctuary (Rajasthan), 19,000-tree project for communities in Panchmahal district (Gujarat); 30,000-tree project at Satkosia Gorge Wildlife Sanctuary (Odisha); 29,990-tree project for communities in Udaipur (Rajasthan); and 100,000-tree project for wildlife at Sariska (Rajasthan). Eight projects, across six states in India, are ongoing.

The variety of trees planted depends on the agro-climatic conditions and their benefits in terms of flowers, fruits, fodder, fuel and non-timber forest produce for the local community as well as insects, birds and animals. All trees are species indigenous to the site to maintain biodiversity. Some of trees planted are: karanj, bamboo, soap nut, arjuna, custard apple, mango, amla, kala siris, khair, mahogany and jungle jalebi.

Pradip Shah started this social enterprise by investing his own funds to cover all start-up costs—from creating the online platform and website, screening and enrolment of planting partners and funding the initial nurseries. Individuals and companies now use the Grow-Trees platform to plant trees and utilise its customised e-Tree Certificate. The organisation doesn’t rely on tax concessions like other charities; it wants government resources to be conserved for the more pressing welfare needs.

G3, Scheherazade,
Justice Vyas Road, Colaba,
Mumbai 400 005
Tel: (91 22) 2288 1301/ 2284 2897
Fax: (91 22) 2283 0376 Email: [email protected]


The inspiring journey of a Hero by Priya Kumar: Book Review

The man behind the world’s largest bicycle and motorcycle company

This book is about Om Prakash Munjal, founder of the Hero Cycles and manufacturer of Hero motorbikes. It highlights the advantages of a home-grown and people-driven style of management over the process-driven Western systems.

Munjal, a first-generation industrialist, is a son of a food grains wholesaler from Kamalia, Pakistan. The four Munjal brothers started a modest business after being displaced twice. They had an ambition to create an inexpensive and effective mode of transport for post-independence India. Hero Cycles was founded in 1956, manufacturing 7,500 cycles a year. Over the years, it has graduated into producing seven million cycles annually, making it to the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest integrated bicycle manufacturer.

This could not have happened without tremendous application and indomitable spirit. Says OP Munjal’s son Pankaj: “Our father did not study beyond the tenth grade but he takes pride in our education, asking us to speak to him in English to enable him to improve on his Englishspeaking skills. He enrolled in a public speaking class to improve his language and articulation. He would ask us what we learnt at school so that he could improve his knowledge.”

The father’s response to whether he regrets sacrificing studies to go to work is: “Life is the biggest teacher and the world the biggest school… When I make a mistake, I learn and grow bigger…Though I failed to go to school I’ve never failed to learn.” He doesn’t bring home his work and never mixes personal expenses with the company’s. When a factory worker’s seriously-ill child had to be taken to hospital, he sent his car. When the worker asked how he he would go home, he replied: “Don’t worry about me. I have put the world on cycles.”

When he started, Munjal would sell his cycles at his price but never make anyone suffer a loss. When the factory had to be shut down, following a general strike in Punjab, he rolled up his sleeves with a spray can in hand and assembled cycles. His workers returned behind closed gates and stayed on overnight to avoid risking violence. When truck-drivers went on a strike, he chose to transport cycles by buses. When the dollar rate fluctuated favourably giving him a windfall, he chose to share the gains with the management, the employees and dealers in equal measure!

He prefers personal meetings over conference calls and hardly uses his cell phone. When a new manager came to him with a detailed power point presentation, Munjal told him to close his laptop and explain the project verbally. After just 30 minutes of discussion, he assembled all the people involved, assigned tasks and approved budgets across the table to get started. What is this hard-nosed industrialist’s take on digital technology? According to him, technology:

Gets in the way of productivity when the mailbox is full of ccs containing something one doesn’t need to know;

Becomes an enemy of performance when weeks are spent on making presentations when the same time could be put in getting the job done;

Is destructive when attention is distracted by social media and mindless instant messaging;

Is a curse when work hours are made longer and attention span shorter.

This encapsulates the life story of a school-dropout with down-to-earth values, one who revolutionised the two-wheeler industry and led Hero Honda into becoming the world’s largest motorcycle company.


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