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Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It

Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It

by Chris Clearfield, András Tilcsik


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A groundbreaking take on how complexity causes failure in all kinds of modern systems—from social media to air travel—this practical and entertaining book reveals how we can prevent meltdowns in business and life

"Endlessly fascinating, brimming with insight, and more fun than a book about failure has any right to be, Meltdown will transform how you think about the systems that govern our lives. This is a wonderful book."—Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better

A crash on the Washington, D.C. metro system. An accidental overdose in a state-of-the-art hospital. An overcooked holiday meal. At first glance, these disasters seem to have little in common. But surprising new research shows that all these events—and the myriad failures that dominate headlines every day—share similar causes. By understanding what lies behind these failures, we can design better systems, make our teams more productive, and transform how we make decisions at work and at home.

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.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780735222632
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/20/2018
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Chris Clearfield is a former derivatives trader who worked in New York, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. He is a licensed commercial pilot and a graduate of Harvard University, where he studied physics and biology. Chris has written about complexity and failure for The Guardian, Forbes, and the Harvard Kennedy School Review. He lives in Seattle.

András Tilcsik holds the Canada Research Chair in Strategy, Organizations, and Society at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. He has been recognized as one of the world's top forty business professors under forty and as one of thirty management thinkers most likely to shape the future of organizations. The United Nations named his course on organizational failure as the best course on disaster risk management in a business school. He lives in Toronto.

Table of Contents

Prologue: A Day Like Any Other 1

Part 1 Failure All Around Us

1 The Danger Zone 15

2 Deep Waters, New Horizons 35

3 Hacking, Fraud, and All the News That's Unfit to Print 57

Part 2 Conquering Complexity

4 Out of the Danger Zone 81

5 Complex Systems, Simple Tools 99

6 Reading the Writing on the Wall 121

7 The Anatomy of Dissent 149

8 The Speed Bump Effect 175

9 Strangers in a Strange Land 195

10 Surprise! 219

Epilogue: The Golden Age of Meltdowns 241

Acknowledgments 247

Notes 251

Index 287

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