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Making Things Work: Solving Complex Problems in a Complex World Paperback – May 30, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0965632829 ISBN-10: 0965632822 Edition: 1st
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Making Things Work: Solving Complex Problems in a Complex World + The Systems View of the World: A Holistic Vision for Our Time (Advances in Systems Theory, Complexity, and the Human Sciences) + Institutions and Social Conflict (Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: AMAZON.COM; 1 edition (May 30, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0965632822
  • ISBN-13: 978-0965632829
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #311,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Gerry Stern on July 18, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book is bound to please anyone who wants to grapple with the complexity of today's world and organizations, and is interested in the truly big picture and issues.

Part I explains concepts central to complex systems, such as: parts, wholes and relationships; patterns; networks and collective memory; possibilities; and evolution. The second and major part of the book focuses on how we can apply complex systems ideas to help solve such major real-world challenges as: military warfare and conflict; health care (the system and errors); learning and the educational system; international development; enlightened evolutionary engineering; and global control, ethnic violence and terrorism. The first hurdle is to comprehend these problems using our knowledge of complex systems and then begin to address them using a complex systems framework.

The book is intellectually refreshing and bold. Its content is expansive, enlightening, and mind-stimulating.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By S Peter Cordner on February 21, 2012
Format: Paperback
Dr Bar-Yam's book is a good examination of the problems of complexity and simplicity, and how they interact within a system environment. I found it an interesting read, in that it illuminates a series of general methods of thinking about systems and intra-system interactions. I get the impression this is all very basic systems engineering knowledge and the book has sparked my interest in the field, but as to this particular book I found several unfortunate errors in the book about peripheral topics that make me wonder about the work's examples as a whole.

The two that really caught my eye were an otherwise throwaway bit about Macedonian phalanxes that displayed some ignorance, and...

On p156, in the discussion on how easy it would be to drastically reduce medical errors with one fix, there's a horrible mathematical/probability error. It proposes a hypothetical ten-step process to medical procedures, with a 1% error at each INDEPENDENT step (this is important) leading to an overall ~10% chance of error [no error = (1-0.01)^10 = 90.4%] being applied to the patient. His easy solution is to introduce redundancy at just one step, making that one step's likelihood of error 1% of 1%, or 0.01%; which is a correct construction. However, he then goes on to say that this one adjustment would reduce the total, final chance of error to 99.9%... and this is TOTALLY INCORRECT. It's EMBARRASSING. Such an adjustment would make the final chance of error 8.7% [no error = (1-.01)^9*(1-.0001) = 91.3%], a relative reduction of 9% and an absolute reduction of 0.9%, not his calculated relative reduction of 99% and absolute reduction of 9.9%. He (apparently) incorrectly assumed that this one redundancy would reduce errors at all steps to 0.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Steve Young on January 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
I read the author's previous book "Dynamics of Complex Systems," which is also an outstanding book that offers a more technical and in-depth look at complex systems in textbook form. The new book, "Making Things Work: Solving Complex Problems in a Complex World", presents complex systems concepts in a clear and understandable manner. Most of the book is devoted to detailed discussion of real world examples from the military, health care, education, international development, engineering, and global ethnic violence and terrorism. The author provides thought-provoking insights as well as innovative approaches to dealing with the complex problems in these areas. The world could be a different place if more people read this book.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By John McGuirl on March 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
In "Making Things Work" Yaneer provides the reader with an excellent, non-technical discussion of some of the more important concepts in Complexity science. Like other successful popularizers of science such as Carl Sagan, Yaneer has a gift for explaining difficult subjects in a way that everyone can understand. He then shows how these concepts can (and should) be used to address real-world problems such as the health-care crisis and education. It should be required reading for policy-makers and business leaders.

For a more technical treatment, I'd recommend Yaneer's earlier book or better yet, take a course at NECSI.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By D. O. Norman on January 16, 2005
Format: Paperback
Making Things Work is a lucid presentation of an important topic that takes the reader by the hand and walks along a path that all would do well to travel. I particularly liked his preludes where he sets the social context and personal "ah ha!" he's experienced.
This book is must reading for decision makers in industry and government. A well-thumbed copy should be found on the shelf of any person claiming to think deeply about "transformation."
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mary Ann Allison on January 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
"Making Things Work" is one of those rare and to-be-treasured books which 1) addresses serious and difficult problems and 2) is an easy and interesting read.

Bar-Yam applies key principles of complex systems to many of the large and seemingly insoluble problems that we face as a society and gives us a reason to hope by providing new ways of understanding and addressing them. Bar-Yam's approaches are not simplistic panaceas. Implementation requires new ways of thinking and acting.

The only caution I have is that, for most people, it takes time and mental discipline to be able to use these powerful ideas effectively.
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