The book begins with Harry Truman who changed history in a way that shaped the world we live in today, a man I view as the epitome of a decision-maker. Truman was a self-educated, plain-spoken, unassuming man who never expected to get where he got in life but was graceful and grateful when he did. Yet this thirty-third American President made a breathtaking, heart-stopping, audacious decision in 1945 that reverberates worldwide to this day. Did Truman realize what would unfold in the twenty-first century? Probably not.
You and I probably do not realize what life and our lives and the lives of people close to us will be like twenty years from now. That said, we should at least try to think of what lies ahead and the effects that what we do will have on the future.
This book closes with Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani Muslim woman who embodies courage, who points the way to the future. Malala in 2012 literally faced death from the Taliban because of the way she and her family had bravely decided that her life should be lived—going to her local school. Educated at Oxford University and a Nobel Laureate, Malala continues her outspoken activism on behalf of educational and all rights for children. Her impact on the world is already palpable—what will the future bring?
How did Harry and Malala do what they did? What can the rest of us learn from them as we approach our own decisions large and small? What can we learn from the other visionary decision-makers whose stories I tell in this book?
And as you read on, you will meet and take ideas and advice from twenty-one other people, the likes of Pablo Picasso, Elie Wiesel, Mahatma Gandhi, Dag Hammarskjöld, Margaret Thatcher, Joan of Arc, Johann Gutenberg, A. Giannini, Henry Ford, Howard Johnson, Alexander Fleming, Louis Pasteur, Ignaz Semmelweis, Marie Curie, Rachel Carson, Hannibal Barca, Julius Caesar, John Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln, Muhammad Ali, and Martin Luther.
What will their lessons mean for you?
This book is not aimed at telling you all you need to know about these outstanding men and women. It is a book that puts you at their sides as they come to decisions that shaped the future of the world. And it will leave you with specific ways of thinking to make decisions important to you.
Each of us, like Caesar, has a Rubicon to cross. We all have a certain set of decisions to make that might, if properly done, lead to a better life for each of us and indeed a better world.
If you pursue the simple guidelines that are embedded in these stories of real people who made world-changing decisions, the minutes and hours and days—the years—that lie ahead for you will be more positive and exciting.
Believe me, it's worth the effort.
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Like you, I make decisions all day long. I don't think about most of these decisions. I just make them. You do too. Reading this book, for example, instead of doing something else.
Many of our decisions are mundane and routine. They interest no one except you and those around you. When to get up, what to wear, what to eat for breakfast and so on. But even these mundane and routine decisions are not random. What to wear, for example, depends on what you will be doing that day.
Often, what I will be doing is working with clients of my communications counseling firm who—having made their own mundane and routine decisions earlier in the day—are now grappling with multi-faceted and compelling questions with very large human, corporate, industry, community, and global implications. These clients have a lot invested in making right and good decisions, and my long career has been devoted to helping this process go smoothly. (And it doesn't always.)
Of course, I have made plenty of personal decisions. Every one of us has. Some were enormously significant to me at the time and their import has faded, others remain foundational to my life and the people I love. Some decisions have been good; some, mistakes. I like to think that I have gotten better at decision-making as I have gotten older and have amassed more experience.
Along the way, I developed a fascination with decision-making, this very human process of sorting out, often in the midst of chaos and confusion or at least competing viewpoints, what should be done. I am sure that you think about this too, especially when a decision you make has a negative result.
Writing this book has strengthened my decision-making abilities. Considering individuals from as long ago as centuries B.C., to today, has given me insights I did not previously have. As I tell the stories of these people, I have tried to turn my insights into ideas and specific suggestions that will help you.
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