Better, Not Perfect: A Realist's Guide to Maximum Sustainable GoodnessMax H. Bazerman Harper Business, 2020. 256 pages (Hardcover). ISBN‐10: 0063002701. ISBN‐13: 978‐0063002708

AuthorAnn E. Tenbrunsel
Date01 December 2020
Published date01 December 2020
Bus Soc Rev. 2020;125:425–428.
Received: 28 May 2020
Accepted: 24 June 2020
DOI: 10.1111/basr.12213
Better, Not Perfect: A Realist's Guide to Maximum
Sustainable Goodness
Max H. Bazerman
Harper Business, 2020. 256 pages (Hardcover). ISBN-10: 0063002701. ISBN-13: 978-0063002708
Better Not Perfect makes a powerful and inspirational argument: we can and need to make choices
that are better for ourselves, and, at the same time, better for society. Based on the underlying premise
that optimality may be a daunting goal, Bazerman argues that the inability to make perfect decisions
should not serve as obstacle to improving our decisions. Drawing on his decades of scholarly and
practical expertise in negotiations, decision-making, and ethical behavior, Bazerman offers compel-
ling and sometimes disturbing examples to provide an informed diagnosis of where we go wrong and
deliver a roadmap that will lead to improved albeit imperfect decisions.
In doing so, Better Not Perfect helps address a void in our current understanding of important deci-
sions. As is aptly pointed out, traditional thinking in this line of inquiry can take one of two directions.
Philosophers take a normative standard, attempting to articulate what people “should” do, though they
may differ among themselves about what the correct moral action actually is. Psychologists tackling
this problem take a more descriptive approach, identifying how it is that people actually behave.
Bazerman fills the space in-between these two approaches by moving beyond simply describing how
people behave to providing solutions, solutions that are an improvement from our current status but
that most likely do not meet the high standards required of philosophers. The end result is a practical
understanding and prescriptive approach for improving our everyday choices.
Several underlying principles guide the discussions and recommendations in the book. Utilitarianism
is advanced as the normative principle to which we should ascribe, a “North Star” guidepost that will
enable us to make better and more ethical decisions that in turn will create increased long-term value.
A utilitarian perspective is also asserted to be useful in assessing individuals such as Carnegie and
Sackler, leaders who created value through their extensive philanthropy but also destroyed enormous
value through unethical actions, including mistreatment of employees and the production and promo-
tion of a product, opiates, which has killed hundreds of thousands at the time of this writing. Important
in this assessment, Bazerman argues, is to assess cumulative value, taking into account both value
creation and value destruction. The importance of System 2 thinking, the deliberate, logical, and
reasoned mode of thinking, also underlies the discussion and recommendations provided; in contrast,
System 1 thinking, or that which is characterized as fast, instinctive and emotional, is argued to be one
of the reasons our choices not as good as they could be. Though I will later articulate a long-standing
“discussion” between Max and myself on the limits of utilitarianism and System 2 thinking, these
underlying principles provide for a compelling articulation of how we can make better choices and
© 2020 W. Michael Hoffman Center for Business Ethics at Bentley University.

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