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Managing the Unexpected: Assuring High Performance in an Age of Complexity Hardcover – July 3, 2001


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Product Details

  • Series: J-B US non-Franchise Leadership (Book 8)
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (July 3, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0787956279
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787956271
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #123,353 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

"Of all the people Tom and I quoted in In Search of Excellence Karl Weick was hands down the most influential. As a researcher and thought leader on matters organizational and strategic, Karl gets an eleven on my scale of one to ten. Now Weick and Sutcliffe have written on a subject they have been researching for a very long time: excellence in responding to crisis in organizational settings that are inherently complex and dangerous. The differences they find between these organizations and the ones that, well, kill people have much to teach us all, even those of us operating in less dangerous settings. I loved this book, even the footnotes." (Bob Waterman, coauthor, In Search of Excellence)

"The cost of unpleasant surprises in business is escalating. Missed earnings or late and unsafe products or services, for example, can result in disastrous consequences for a company and its management . . . . Weick and Sutcliffe offer five sound organizational principles for building a company that delivers what it promises. This is an exceptionally well written and practical book that can ensure your company's future." (Michael Beer, Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School)

"For anyone who wants a better understanding of how organizations and leaders can cope with and master ambiguity, uncertainty, and change, this is the first and best book to go to." (Warren Bennis, University Professor and Distinguished Professor of Business Administration, University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, and coauthor, Geeks and Geezers)

"Breaks important new ground in organization theory and provides extremely relevant insights for leaders who want to create high performance cultures that are also truly adaptable and resilient. Written in a captivating style, filled with evocative examples and pragmatic guidelines, this book should be mandatory reading for both theorist and practitioner alike." (John Seely Brown, former director Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and coauthor, The Social Life of Information, HBSP 2000)

"A must read for managers and others in organizations with low tolerance for error. Weick and Sutcliffe's book is filled with recipes for success." (Karlene H. Roberts, professor, Walter A. Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley)

"...it's worth reading..." (Professional Manager, January 2002)

From the Inside Flap

One of the great challenges any business or organization can face is how to deal with the unexpected. While traditional managerial practices such as planning are designed to manage unexpected threats, they often make things worse. How do you organize for high performance in a setting where the potential for error and disaster is overwhelming? In this book, the ninth in the University of Michigan Business School Management Series, Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe look to high reliability organizations (HROs)? aircraft carriers, nuclear power plants, fire-fighting crews, and others-for the answer. HROs have developed ways of acting that provide a template for all organizations that want to be more reliable in managing the unexpected. Managing the Unexpected shows executives and upper level managers how to manage under trying conditions. The authors reveal how HROs create a collective state of mindfulness that produces an enhanced ability to discover and correct errors before they escalate into a crisis. Through a discussion of this principle and the practices that can be used to apply it, the authors show how to anticipate and respond to threats with flexibility rather than rigidity. Their practical, solutions-oriented approach includes numerous case studies demonstrating "mindful" practices and enables readers to assess and implement mindfulness in their own organizations. THE AUTHORS Karl E. Weick is the Rensis Likert Collegiate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Psychology and professor of psychology at the University of Michigan Business School. His book, The Social Psychology of Organizing (1979), was designated by James Collins in Inc. magazine as one of the nine best business books ever written. Kathleen M. Sutcliffe is assistant professor of organizational behavior and human resource management at the University of Michigan Business School. She has published numerous articles on cognitive and experiential diversity in top management teams and on organizational performance.

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Customer Reviews

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This is an excellent book for both managers and consultants.
Sue Hammond
I have read and enjoyed several of Weick's books and articles on organizational performance.
Mike Kircher
Drs Weick and Sutcliffe provide a very readable presentation of a complex subject.
John McGuirl

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 51 people found the following review helpful By Mike Kircher on August 19, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I have read and enjoyed several of Weick's books and articles on organizational performance. For the most part, they were difficult, but insightful works on how people in organizations behave. But it was not easy to translate the insights I gleaned from Weick's work into tools and strategies to improve the performance of the organization which employs me (a small hospital).
In Managing the Unexpected, Weick and coauthor Sutcliffe have written a short book that summarizes the insights gained from studying high reliability organizations (HROs) and details "doable" strategies to enable other organizations to improve their own reliability. The book's use of several case studies, detailing of key strategies and techniques, and chapter summaries make it a quick and interesting read. What is most valuable, though, is that a person working in an HRO, or an organization that should aspire to such a status, can immediately take the techniques and strategies detailed in the book and start to use them to improve the organization's performance and reliability.
Despite the fact that this book offers concrete strategies to improve organizational performance, it admits right from the start that successful HROs are extremely complex organizations. The authors allow the reader to appreciate that the success of these organizations in delivering quality products and services under often adverse circumstances is due to cadres of employees with diverse perspectives, skills, and expertise, that respect the complexity of the organization, and are willing to allow important decisions to be made by the individuals with the greatest understanding of the current situation.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Robert I. Hedges HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on March 25, 2006
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe have written an eloquent and practical guide to reliability and safety that emphasizes the managerial point of view, but is also equally helpful to researchers or safety professionals. Perhaps the greatest thing the authors are able to accomplish in this book is in emphasizing the conscious mindfulness required in critical situations, and in distinguishing in observable and real-world ways the specific components of mindfulness as seen in safety-conscious High Reliability Organizations (HROs).

The authors distill the essence of reliability (and safety) into five essential qualities: preoccupation with failure, reluctance to simplify, sensitivity to operations, commitment to resilience, and deference to expertise. As a long time safety professional (with experience largely in the aviation and chemical processing industries) I couldn't agree more with the authors after reading the text associated with these five qualities. I have found that especially in larger organizations that deference to expertise is perhaps the most difficult of the five traits to be accepted in the workplace, as generally rank or seniority tend to be deferred to, particularly in a crisis. The airline industry has come a long way with the different iterations of Crew Resource Management (CRM), and of all (often unstated) the reasons that CRM has succeeded I think that deference to expertise is the single most important.

I like the concept of realistic audits the authors promote, and particularly enjoyed the insight regarding the vulnerability of Singapore to Japanese attack as it came to be understood by Winston Churchill, who had a penchant for realistic self-appraisal, to wit: "I ought to have known.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Daniel R. Wilson on November 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is about learning to "notice the unexpected in the making and halt its development." In other words, it shows the reader how to detect surprises while they are new, small, and insignificant and before they become five-alarm fires. The book shows the reader how to create what the authors call a high-reliability organization that can deal effectively with surprises. An organization does this by being "mindful," which is to say alert, resilient, and flexible. What could be more perfect for today's executives?

Weick and Sutcliffe also provide clear guidance on how to implement their advice, but the reader should be warned that doing so is tough. Most bosses don't want to be bothered with a) "insignificant" developments b) news about near misses c) inquiry into gray areas that cannot be resolved quickly and cleanly, and d) reflections on efforts that failed or nearly failed. Few organizations truly defer to expertise rather than to rank. Few bosses devote time to exploring isolated events that may have subtle relationships connecting them. All of these cultural characteristics resist the implementation of mindfulness.

This book is helpful in part because the authors articulate complicated ideas in a clear and condensed way. They give us words and phrases that we can actually use at work. It is also useful because the book draws on real life examples of mindful organizations and of others that paid the price for not being mindful. I count this book among the top dozen or so business and management books I have read over the years, and I have read many of them. It is outstanding.
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