Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It

Book - 2018
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"Weaving together cutting-edge social science with riveting stories that take us from the frontlines of the Volkswagen scandal to backstage at the Oscars, and from deep beneath the Gulf of Mexico to the top of Mount Everest, Chris Clearfield and András Tilcsik explain how the increasing complexity of our systems creates conditions ripe for failure and why our brains and teams can't keep up. They highlight the paradox of progress: Though modern systems have given us new capabilities, they've become vulnerable to surprising meltdowns--and even to corruption and misconduct. But Meltdown isn't just about failure; it's about solutions--whether you're managing a team or the chaos of your family's morning routine. It reveals why ugly designs make us safer, how a five-minute exercise can prevent billion-dollar catastrophes, why teams with fewer experts are better at managing risk, and why diversity is one of our best safeguards against failure. The result is an eye-opening, empowering, and entirely original book--one that will change the way you see our complex world and your own place in it."--Jacket flap.
Publisher: New York :, Penguin Press,, 2018
ISBN: 9780735222632
Characteristics: 294 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Additional Contributors: Tilcsik, András - Author


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Sep 04, 2018

Nothing new here.

Aug 26, 2018

<p class="p1">A few years ago when I still had Scribd, I found a book by Charles Perrow called “Normal Accidents.” My Goodreads review of it is <a href=";from_review_page=1">here</a>. As it turns out, that wasn’t the kind of book I was looking for. “Meltdown” is exactly what I was looking for. It takes Perrow’s theories and provides a more modern and digestible framework.</p>
<p class="p1">Perrow’s thesis is that in systems with sufficient complexity and tight coupling (not a lot of time or room for error), accidents are inevitable. He calls them normal accidents. “Meltdown” uses this and applies it to more recent accidents - everything from Wall Street crashes to Enron to software bugs to potential issues with dams and nuclear power plants. Where Perrow was writing in the 80s, which was the thing I remember most from his book, Clearfield and Tilcsik have the advantage of everything he knew and everything that has happened since.</p>
<p class="p1">This doesn’t make me feel any better on a global scale, because if anything normal accidents have become more normal and expanded out into more areas of life. “Meltdown” makes it clear that areas that formerly were loosely coupled are now tightening, such as dam safety. It does also point out areas where active work to decrease issues has been successful, such as cockpit resource management (a philosophy of flight decks where first officers feel more empowered to challenge potentially dangerous actions by their captains). Overall, though, I don’t feel like my world is any safer than it was before.</p>
<p class="p1">That’s not to say it can’t become safer. Taking lessons from Perrow and other systems analysts can help and have helped many businesses. It’s too bad this wasn’t around before Target rolled out in Canada. Instead of being an object lesson in failure for Clearfield and Tilcsik, they could have been a lesson in success. Five of five stars.</p>


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