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Book Review: The Go Point – When It’s Time To Decide by Michael Useem

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The Go Point: When It's Time To Decide by Michael Useem is a comprehensive analysis of  the choices of people who needed to make a decision. Although it wasn't always easy, turning back was not an option.

In some cases, staying put was the only option. For example, Roberto Canessa was on a flight that crashed in the Andes. He knew better than to move in case search planes were on their way to the crash site. While most survived, others did not. Canessa, a medical student, managed to convince his companions that cannibalism, despite being hard to accept psychologically, had to take place before more died. Some people died anyway, but 15 survived to be rescued.

How do those decisions get made when one is at the "go point"? A sign sometimes presents itself. Rick Pitino, once coach of the Boston Celtics, faced the difficult choice of whether to remain part of the National Basketball League or take charge of a university team. The University of Louisville Cardinals got their leader after Pitino saw a red cardinal land on his porch table in the middle of a conversation on the topic.

Occasionally, the decision is made in haste and a problem arises. G. Richard Thoman agreed to be president and Chief Operating Officer of Xerox Corporation. It seemed perfect at the time, but leadership was more difficult than expected. Sometimes thorough research into a company’s management style will make a serious difference.

Useem takes some scenarios and examines them in great detail. History buffs should enjoy the sections about the Civil War. From the good, the bad, the ugly, to the final surrender of the South, leaders stood out in various ways. I especially enjoyed reading stories from both sides of one of the bloodiest events in our country's past.

A few of the stories will be familiar to readers. When Enron collapsed, it dominated the news. And with good reason – executives failed to take action against the few whose unethical practices would bring down the entire company. The president of Tyco brought about his personal downfall when in his greed he stole money from both his company and stockholders.

Along with detailed pieces about decision-making by others, there are a few scenarios to test how well readers make their own decisions. Once an answer appears to be well in hand, the author provides his email address so readers can share solutions with him as well as how the solutions were made. Useem then mails the reader a password so the correct solution can be found on the website. If I had written this book, I might have made the process a lot simpler by putting the solution directly on the website. I will say that the first puzzle is perhaps the easiest to solve.

People make many decisions every day. Some are easy, many are difficult. This book attempts to help one decide how to move forward with the complicated.

Did Useem acheive his goal? I'm not entirely sure I can answer that question. This book is technical, but the stories are interesting enough to be remembered. There are about 50 different lessons about people who decided to take action. Although not all plans were well thought out, a lesson can be learned from each.

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