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August 25, 2008

News & Opinion: Welcoming Aaron Sandoski and Bryn Zeckhauser: How the Wise Decide

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 2:25 PM – Filed under: Leadership & Strategy

Joining us this week on the blog are Bryn Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski, authors of How the Wise Decide. They conducted 21 interviews of wise business and government leaders - including, Bill George of Medtronic, Stephen Breyer of the Supreme Court, Daniel Kahneman a Nobel Prize Winner in Economics, Shelly Lazarus of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide and many more. They found six decision-making principles. Over the next few days, Bryn and Aaron will share examples of problems, solutions and lessons gained.
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Bill George, Part I
Former CEO of Medtronic

The success of every business and every career turns on the decisions people make. Unfortunately, most of us aren't making very good decisions. An estimated 80 percent of new products fail after launch and more than half of all mergers and acquisitions destroy more value than they create. We set out to learn how to make great decisions. Our book, How the Wise Decide, taps the thinking and experiences of 21 extraordinary leaders who consistently made great decisions. We have distilled their wisdom into six fundamental principles these leaders share and that have enabled them to create enormous value. In fact, the eight retired public company CEOs outperformed the S&P by 15 times and four of the leaders became self-made billionaires. The principles sound simple, but they're extraordinarily difficult to execute because they require rare devotion and relentless practice.
We'll show you what "easy to state, difficult to execute" means by introducing you to our first principle--Go To The Source--and one of its best practitioners, Bill George, the former CEO of Medtronic, the Minneapolis medical device manufacturer.
When George arrived at Medtronic he knew that new and innovative medical instruments were the company's lifeblood and that he needed to understand how Medtronic's products were used. To develop that knowledge firsthand he devoted most of the first 90 days on the job to observing actual surgical procedures. It was in a surgical suite at New York City's massive Lenox Hill Hospital that George had a rude awakening. A cardiologist was going to use a Medtronic balloon catheter in an angioplasty to open a patient's clogged arteries. Gowned and gloved, George stood only a few feet away from the operating table as the doctor carefully inserted the catheter into the patient's femoral artery. But just minutes later the handle of the catheter fell apart! Ever so carefully, the cardiologist withdrew the catheter from the patient. Then, his face scarlet with rage, he hurled the bloody device at George, who ducked just in time to avoid being hit in the face. The operation resumed, this time with a competitor's catheter.
George had been aware that Medtronic's catheter sales weren't what they should have been. The company was losing market share and the sales force had been complaining about product quality. But the engineers had said the product was fine and getting better. Maybe the sales force was just looking for an excuse for not doing a good job, he had thought. Now, shaken by what he had just seen, George sat down with the Medtronic sales rep who had been with him in the operating room. The rep told him that the problem he had just witnessed wasn't an isolated incident. The catheters had been failing with disturbing frequency. All the sales reps knew that, he said, and they had all filed the required field reports.
If all those reports had been filed, George thought, why didn't I know about them?
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Stay tuned for Part II of the Bill George story. For more from Bryn and Aaron, check out their website.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.