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Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty Hardcover – August 31, 2007

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Managing the Unexpected: Sustained Performance in a Complex World
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Editorial Reviews


“Here is the essential book for managers who want to anticipate and adapt to surprises. Weick and Sutcliffe present a set of challenging ideas in a way that is clear and compelling, and then turn these critical insights into practical guidelines that have broad application and relevance.”—Gary Klein, Applied Research Associates and author, Sources of Power



“Of course there is 'nothing new under the sun'—but Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe come as close as is humanly imaginable in this latest version of Managing the Unexpected. No issue is more timely (alas), and there may be no approach that is more original and thoughtful and useful and data-rich than what you'll find between the covers of this book.”—Tom Peters, author, In Search of Excellence 

For those managing or studying organizations like nuclear power plants and aircraft carrier flight decks, Weick and Sutcliffe's original edition was a godsend, providing a new language and conceptual structure for understanding why some of these organizations perform so much better than othersand helping those who manage in less extreme environments gain to boost their own performance. This latest edition includes valuable new examples and an expanded treatment of the critical concepts of anticipation and containmentand it is filled with useful advice about how to achieve high performance in any setting.”
Herman B. “Dutch” Leonard, George F. Baker, Jr., Professor of Public Management, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University and Eliot I. Snider and Family Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

From the Inside Flap

Since the first edition of Managing the Unexpected was published in 2001, the unexpected has become a growing part of our everyday lives. The unexpected is often dramatic, as with hurricanes or terrorist attacks. But the unexpected can also come in more subtle forms, such as a small organizational lapse that leads to a major blunder, or an unexamined assumption that costs lives in a crisis. Why are some organizations better able than others to maintain function and structure in the face of unanticipated change?

Authors Karl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe answer this question by pointing to high reliability organizations (HROs), such as emergency rooms in hospitals, flight operations of aircraft carriers, and firefighting units, as models to follow. These organizations have developed ways of acting and styles of learning that enable them to manage the unexpected better than other organizations. Thoroughly revised and updated, the second edition of the groundbreaking book Managing the Unexpected uses HROs as a template for any institution that wants to better organize for high reliability.

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. A mindful infrastructure continually

  • Tracks small failures
  • Resists oversimplification
  • Is sensitive to operations
  • Maintains capabilities for resilience
  • Takes advantage of shifting locations of expertise

Through a discussion of the principle of mindfulness 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.

Managing the Unexpected is a guide for learning the hard-won lessons of high reliability organizations that are able to manage unexpected threats and bounce back in a stronger position to tackle future challenges.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 2 edition (August 31, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0787996491
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787996499
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,853 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Karl Weick is the Rensis Likert College Professor of Organizational Behavior and Psychology, and Professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan.

He is one of the leading figures in the American Academy of Management and he is seen by many as one of the most influential thinkers and writers in the field.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Dennis DeWilde on December 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
This second edition - an update of the 2001 book that introduced us to the 'mindful' organization - is a timely and well-done re-write that furthers the authors' contention that mindfulness is at the core of a learning organization. By substituting a failed preemptive burn incident, (the 2000 Cerro Grande wildland fire that caused $1 billion of damage to Los Alamos), for the 1st edition's Union Pacific/Southern Pacific merger debacle as the central example of their 5 principles of mindfulness, the reader is able to feel the flames of the unexpected leap beyond the control lines of the HRO (High Reliability Organizations) environment. This wind-fed fire metaphor gives life to the uncontrollable nature of today's business environment and every business's need for a mindful response to the unexpected. Managing only for the expected will not provide containment when the winds of change blow into your marketplace. From the authors' perspective, the appropriate response is the creation of an infrastructure to provide the 5 principles of mindfulness.

1. Preoccupation with failure - treating any failure (often small ones) as a symptom that something is wrong with the system, a mindful organization is continually updating its understanding.
2. Reluctance to simplify interpretations - ensuring a more complete and nuanced picture, simplifying less and seeing more.
3. Sensitivity to operations - paying attention to relationships at the front line, where the work gets done.
4. Commitment to resilience - maintaining a deep knowledge of the technology, the system, one's coworkers, and one's self as avenues for improvising and keeping the system functioning.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Rolf Dobelli HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Karl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe give readers something new and useful in this book. Countless manuals explain how to plan for crises and make it sound like everything will go smoothly if you just plan correctly. Weick and Sutcliffe know better. Planning, they say, may even stand in the way of smooth processes or be the cause of failure. They base this discussion on their studies of "high reliability organizations" (HROs), like fire fighting units and aircraft carrier crews, organizations where the unexpected is common, small events make a difference, failure is a strong possibility and lives are on the line. From those examples, they deduce principles for planning, preparation and action that will apply to any company facing change. The book is not perfect - the authors overuse quotations and rely on buzzwords that don't add much - but it addresses often-neglected aspects of management. getAbstract recommends it to anyone who is trying to make an organization more reliable and resilient amid change.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bob F, measurement guy on July 13, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read the 1st edition. I felt after reading it that the authors had the right idea and the first half of the book was very good. The second half, where they describe the audit left me cold.

I'm interested in questions about new product development. Resilience is an important asset in product development work. Everything in the environment around you changes while you work, plus the designers are constantly learning and discovering things as well. As a project manager, you discover your plan is not working the way you expected. How do you deal with this pace of change?

The 2nd edition of the book reaches further past the safety conscious concerns of the first so it is easier for readers to see how the work applies to resilience and product assurance questions in other work.

I was pleased to see the changes and would strongly recommend the 2nd edition over the 1st.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By J. Michael Innes on February 24, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Other reviewers have aptly summarized the strengths of this really excellent book. Some have referred to the first author's work Social psychology of organizing,( Social Psychology of Organizing (Topics in Social Psychology) but that is to the second edition. The first edition, which appeared in 1969, was, to my mind a truly groundbreaking and mind enhancing work, a total pleasure to read and a pointer to the importance of this new work. The present work, which uses the analysis of high reliability organisations (HROs) to assess the capacities of organizations to deal with change, presents the reader with a structure and a model that is immensely insightful, testable and thus very useful.

I would draw attention of potential readers to two matters that are discussed and will benefit close reading and thought. The issue of the need of organizations to be "sensitive to operations", the need to be at the front line of operations where the action happens, and not back at headquarters observing and surmising from afar, is so important , for all organizations whether they be fire fighting units or schools, nuclear warships or pharmacies. The managers lose sight of daily and minute to minute operations at their peril. Coupled with this is the matter of the need to'defer to expertise". For any organization, the abilities to identify the expert for the problem, not merely a matter of finding the "most experienced", and to ensure that issues are referred to that person at that time in that place, are what optimize the evocation of the responses that enable the survival of the operation.
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