Why do so many companies make so many mistakes—even while led by hardworking, smart, serious people who expend time and effort trying to do the right thing? In this book, based on an expansion of some Business 2.0 columns, I treat this question. One answer is that people frequently fail to consider the unintended consequences or feedback effects of their actions—for instance, cutting wages and benefits can result in a loss of talent and employee engagement or even outright sabotage that leaves companies worse off as they lose customers and revenues. A second answer is that many management interventions are based on naïve and simplistic ideas about human behavior. So companies try to solve every problem through financial rewards and incentives, but often don’t get the behavior that will really make them successful. And third, companies tend to overly complicate things and overlook simple but powerful guides to understanding human behavior, such as the norm of reciprocity—people will repay favors and gifts so that generosity often returns more than it costs.
What Were They Thinking contains 28 essays organized into the following topics: People-Centered Strategies, Creating Effective Workplaces, Power Play: Rethinking Leadership and Influence, Measures of Success: Rethinking Organizational Strategy, and Facing the Nation: Organizations and Public Policy.