Hard Facts

Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting from Evidence-Based Management
Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton. HBS Press, 2006


Selected by The Globe and Mail as the best book of 2006

The French translation “Faits et Foutaises dans le management” won the “Prix du livre Ressources Humaines” award in Paris, Oct. 2008. Sponsored by the HR Chair of “Sciences Po”, France’s prestigious political science school, Le Monde, the national daily newspaper of record, and Syntec, a headhunter firm, it is an award for the best business book published in France during the previous year. Read more at Sutton’s blog

What the Authors Say

“Great leaders are in control and ought to be…
The best organizations have the best people…
Financial incentives drive company performance… ”

Great pearls of business wisdom?  Absolutely not,  say Professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton… more

“There have been a number of important changes in management practice over the past fifty years: the discovery that buffer inventories hurt manufacturing efficiency, reliance on the capital markets for funding instead of using banks, and the value of brand extensions (to name just a few). There may be another important change in the offing: evidence-based management.”  Jeff Pfeffer in Evidence-Based Management: An Interview with Dr. Jeffrey Pfeffer. Creelman At Large. Human Capital Institute. April 6, 2006

“Business wisdom is pretty straightforward, says author and Stanford professor Robert I. Sutton: Act on the best evidence possible, and learn from your mistakes.” Pearlman, Ellen. Expert Voices: Robert I. Sutton: Making a Case for Evidence-Based Management. CIO Insight, February 6, 2006

“Of course 90% of everything is crap.  That goes for academic research too.  But Hard Facts helps you decide who to believe.  Are they claiming that the same old ideas are brand new?  Are they claiming to be lone geniuses?  Do they claim to have breakthrough ideas?  All of us –  I plead guilty too  — are full of it at times.”  Bob Sutton in Ten Questions with Bob Sutton. How to Change the World, Guy Kawasaki’s blog, May 10, 2006

“There are several dimensions to this way of thinking. First is to consider one’s organization much as you consider its products or services–as an unfinished prototype. This entails adopting an experimenting, somewhat skeptical mind set … Second, it is holding a commitment to trying to make decisions based on the best evidence that is available, being committed to trying to build better evidence for future decisions, and mostly seeking to avoid decisions based on belief, casual benchmarking, what has been done in the past, and so forth.” The Organization as a Prototype: Interview with Jeffrey Pfeffer. ManagementSite, August 2006

“In this podcast, Sutton describes his thought process in writing the books and how Hard Facts builds on Weird Ideas, detailing the advantages of evidence-based management and creating a culture of prototyping.”Audio file Facing Facts: Weird Ideas and Hard Facts . BusinessWeek Online, May 15, 2006

“Probably the biggest single problem for human decision making is that when people have ingrained beliefs, they will put a much higher bar for evidence for things they don’t believe than for things they do believe.  Confirmation-seeking basis, I think, is what social psychologists call it.  Organizations can have amazingly good evidence, but it has no effect on the decisions they make if it conflicts with their ideology,” says Bob Sutton in Prove It. Management needs fewer fads, more reflection.  Stanford Magazine, May/June 2006

Sutton proposes that when it comes to management, people need to be less concerned with what’s new and more concerned with what’s true. Audio file Dr. Moira Gun speaks with Bob SuttonIT Conversations’ Tech Nation, April 10, 2006.

Hard Facts Interview with Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton . Todd S. at 800-CEO-Read Podcasts, April 3, 2006

“The reviewers raise a number of important issues that, in many instances, have implications far beyond our book. We discuss some of these … in the hope that we can also engage others in the conversation and, even more important, in an endeavor to change some fundamental things about the reading and writing of management research and theory.” Jeff and Bob’s response to a discussion in the special review section in the March 2007 issue of Academy of Management Learning & Education [see Arbaugh and Baack’s articles below].   Suppose We Took Evidence-Based Management Seriously: Implications for Reading and Writing Management. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 6:1, March 2007, pp. 153-155 [full-text available to subscribers to EBSCO’s Business Source Complete]

“Study after study shows that most mergers – some estimates are 70 percent or more – fail to deliver their intended benefits and destroy economic value in the process. A recent analysis of 93 studies covering more than 200,000 mergers published in peer-reviewed journals showed that, on average, the negative effects of a merger on shareholder value become evident less than a month after a merger is announced and persist thereafter. …”  Hard Facts: Mergers. Overcoming Bias (Robin Hanson’s blog), March 8, 2010

What Others are Saying

“The authors, each with three decades of academic and consulting experience, conclude that when they want to learn a lot about a company quickly they ask the following question. What happens when people fail? They single out this as the best of their nine diagnostic questions for profiting from evidence-based management…” A book review by George Castellion, SSC Associates. Journal of Product Innovation Management, 24:5, September 2007 [full-text available to subscribers to JPIM Online]

Arbaugh, J. Ben. SPECIAL SECTION: Training Academics From an Evidence-Based Perspective? A Special Review Section on Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 6:1, March 2007 [full-text available to subscribers to EBSCO’s Business Source Complete]

Baack, Sally, Miller, Susan, Williams, Joann, & Dierdorff, Erich C. Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 6:1, March 2007 [full-text available to subscribers to EBSCO’s Business Source Complete]

“If there’s one other recent business book that I heartily recommend, it’s this one. Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton, professors at Stanford University, have written a book that’s perceptive, refreshing, and honest. I like the tone and agree with the argument. It’s a superb book and deserves every success.” A book review PDF document by Phil Rosenzweig, the author of The Halo Effect. January 4, 2007

“The issue is profound, and of particular concern to those who turn to management books for inspiration, since when an idea is turned into book form it acquires an apparent substance that may mask its shaky foundations. For those reasons – and because it’s an excellent, thoughtful, and informative book – I’m picking Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense (Harvard Business School Press) by Stanford University professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton as the best business book of the year (or, more accurately, in line with their quest for precision, the best of the more than 100 business books I managed to read this year).” Harvey Schachter, The Globe and Mail, December 13, 2006 [full-text available to subscribers to LexisNexis Academic and Factiva databases]

“Bob does the right thing when ‘attacking’ dangerous half-truths and other nonsense; evidence has power, simple as that.  … Suspect quotes from his book will crop up in future posts herein! And I am looking forward to the release of his new one – ‘The No Asshole Rule : Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t‘. ” A Very Good Read. Thingamy’s Blog,  July 31, 2006

This is perhaps the most useful business book I’ve read in some years. The book is a description – and argument for – evidence-based management. Evidence-based management is about making decisions based on facts rather than conventional wisdom, history, ideology or assumptions.” Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense. Kent Blumberg’s Blog,  July 26, 2006

“It’s a great read for people dealing with a management that’s fascinated with the guru and magical solution du jour. Asking management to read it, however, may be a CLM (career limiting move).”  Guy Kawasaki in Ten Questions with Bob SuttonSignum sine tinnitu, May 10, 2006

“Getting too caught up in the bits and bytes of the work can isolate you from the broader knowledge and objectives that inform what you do.  With this in mind, allow me to recommend a wonderful new book that, even though it isn’t flashy and intentionally dresses itself in humble garb, is brimming with wholesome wisdom about business management.  … Part of why I like this book so much is because I recognize in their message and spirit a kinship with my own work in the domain of data visualization. Just as I cringe when I see what usually passes for adequate data analysis and communication, they bemoan the sad state of business management because they know how much better it could be done.”  Hard Facts. Why Are Business Decisions So Seldom Based On Them?  Stephen Few.  b.eye: Business Intelligence Network, May 9, 2006

“Do you make the right decisions, or do you simply copy ‘what seems to work for other companies’?  This is the question that two Stanford professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton pose in ‘Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense,’ from Harvard Business School Press.  …  Urgent read.”  A Call for Evidence-Based Management. The Hindu Business Line. May 8, 2006

“… which is a much more thorough way of saying, “Perform the acts of faith, and faith will come,” the essence of St. Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises, written in the 1520s.” Pfeffer and Sutton on Leadership. Ed Batista’s Blog, May 4, 2006

“Observing that if doctors practiced medicine the way many companies practice management, there would be far more sick and dead patients, and many more doctors would be in jail, professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton decided to take a look at the evidenced-based medicine movement. They determined that many of the same principles could be applied to other domains to make our decisions and actions wiser.” Evidence-Based Management. Leading Blog, April 26, 2006

“An unusually fine contribution to current management education as well as a should-be-ever-at-hand benchmark for future organizational practice and research, Hard facts, dangerous half truths, & total nonsense by Pfeffer and Sutton (2006) merits widespread readership as well as a thoughtful and complex review … actually, a paper – this paper … describing the features of a yet-to-be-built useful mathematical-statistical theory of behavior of organizations along with the reasons we need such a theory, guesses about where it may emerge, and short descriptions of the design of the studies that will become the basis for the theory.” Ross, Paul F. Toward a useful theory of behavior of organizations: Review of Pfeffer’s and Sutton’s Hard facts, with extensionsApril 25, 2006

“Senior managers too often allow hunch, hope and imitation to shape their strategy rather than the hard facts. Chris Hyman finds this book a necessary corrective.” Hyman, Chris. A good decision-maker will always weigh the evidence. Management Today, April 2006. [full-text available to subscribers to ABI/INFORM or EBSCO’s Business Source Complete]

“Gathering the work of psychologists, sociologists, and management experts, the authors make a compelling case that some of business’s beloved truths are far from self-evident. Too many business leaders, they argue, are making decisions based on vague hunches, management fads, and heroic-success stories instead of on empirical data. Too often, the consequences are grave.”  Ewers, Justin. Maxims in Need of a Makeover. Forget those management cliches. These professors say it’s time to follow the evidence. US News and World Report, March 27, 2006

“The Bottom Line:  A densely researched, hype-free reminder of what matters: just the facts, ma’am.  …  The book is a rarity on the crowded management shelf.  Unlike many such volumes, it offers no quick-fix, hype-heavy solutions from self-anointed gurus.  At a time when intuition is on the ascent, thanks in part to Malcolm Gladwell and his best-selling Blink,  Hard Facts is a useful reminder that the gut is often trumped by the facts.”  Forget Going With Your Gut. BusinessWeek, March 20, 2006

“The book is a rarity on the crowded management shelf” Gut Feeling. The Economic Times, March 19, 2006 

Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense (Harvard Business School Press), by Stanford professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, is a compelling tour of management conventional wisdom and why it so often turns out to be unwise, untrue and a stranger to fact – bollocks, in fact. Every potential manager should be made to read it before they are allowed to be in charge of anything, even a whelk stall.” Caulkin, Simon. Bosses in love with claptrap and blinded by ideologies. The Observer, March 12, 2006

“The authors take an even-handed look at the need for businesses to move past sloppy, impulsive and often arbitrary decision-making.  …  Evidence-based is already a staple in medicine, on the rise in psychology, and decidedly a need in business.”  Evidence-Based. BNet, March 1, 2006