Customer Reviews: Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty
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on December 11, 2007
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.
5. Deference to expertise - cultivating diversity to do more with complexities, mindful organizations push decisions down to the people with the most expertise, not the most rank or even seniority. This deference moves issues around/across the system, migrating problems to someone with the knowledge and capabilities to address them.

I found the book interesting and instructive the first time around, and I was even more impressed with this 2nd edition. Professor's Weick and Sutcliffe make good use of examples to demonstrate their conclusions and to bring the principles to life. The book is thought provoking and instructive; providing yet another perspective on how to manage performance in the face of today's rapidly flattening landscape.

Dennis DeWilde, author of
"The Performance Connection"
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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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on July 13, 2009
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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on March 4, 2012
I put two stars because I generally agree with what this book says; be prepared for unexpected. However, I was disappointed by the contents.
First of all, the auther picked "aircraft carrier operations' as an example of High Reliablity Organization. I checked US Navy aircraft carrier operation's non-combat injury rate in Navy's website and it was not low. Their injury rate/200,000 hours is 7-8, which is the median of the all indurstries.(Top quartile is around 3 according to US DOL website). As author's says, it is very complex operations which requires highly integrated team work, which I agree and - admire it - , but it is the nature of job and I do not see any part which can be leveraged to my manufacutring indutry's work.
Secondly, the author did not tell how to find any critical signals. He says "be mindful to small signals", but does not show how. There are so many minor signals in a single day - most of them are nuisance but a few are critical - you need to find out which one is the real important one before throwing a dice. Once things happened, you can easily tell which was the "critical" small signal. That's second guess and this is what this book did.
In any project, there is a flood of information - good, bad, unknown as well as input from many customers, collegues, supervisors etc, you got to do screening with your inner criteria and make a decision under uncernity. That criteria - why you think this is imporatnt and that is not - is the key to review before and after the project. Saying "he failed the project because he did not pay attention to xxx(small signal)" is the same with saying nothing.
I think - the real important thing is to build a memory of failure in organization by any means and keep learning to refine those decision making criteria - what to check, who to be involved, etc. Then review them periodically, like which premises succeed and which one did not. This knowledge will be a real value to the organization.
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on August 28, 2014
The book chapters have been arranged in away enables you to understand well the ideas behind the High Reliability Organization (HRO) and it's principles. I like the examples mentioned in this book and how they aligned the emphasis of each example with the HRP principles. I would recommend this book to business continuity professionals. This is a further step beyond BCI's GPG 2013 towards resiliency
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on June 28, 2011
This book was an easy read documenting common sense principles we need to keep in mind (but often forget too) to achieve success. The five principles: Track small failures, Resist oversimplification, Remain sensitive to operations, Maintain capabilities for resilience, and Take advantage of shifting locations of expertise.

It is worth the read.
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on April 18, 2013
This book is broken down into five different parts that teach you how to prepare for a potential crisis before and after it ever occurs along with how to diagnose your own company on how well it accommodation some of the elements to prevent crisis and measure the ability to be mindful of certain situations and gaps in your organization. Basically learning how to create a business culture that is mindful of small flaws that may lead to disasters and then maintaining the disaster to a minimum in order to resolve the issue. Great book!
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on January 31, 2013
This is THE definitive book on the power of creating a high reliability organization. I spent 15 years of my naval career on nuclear submarines and can tell you that HRO is THE best methodology for preventing and or minimizing significant errors in high risk environments.

A great book, easy to read and spot on accurate

John Gregory Vincent
The Genesis Group LLC
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on February 24, 2010
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.

These issues seem so obvious when set out clearly, as they are in this book, but they cannot be so, given how poorly so many firms and organizations deal with change. The authors also draw out the means whereby the right kind of culture can be developed to ensure that the resilience and responsiveness of the organization can be strengthened and preserved.

I wondered if there was reason why allusion was not made to another popular issue in the social science/management literature, namely the notion of response to "tame versus wicked" problems (cf Grint,Leadership, Management and Command: Rethinking D-Day. That makes for an interesting combination of thoughts and analyses. The interested reader can also benefit from considering the matter of expertise in the resilient organization to the increasing attention being paid to the topic in many venues (e.g. Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Successwhat defines expertise (cf Collins & Evans, Rethinking Expertise, how it can be recognized, trained and valued, are crucial to how any organization or society handles change and stress.

These latter matters are, however, not criticisms of the book under review. Quite the contrary; they are direct associations created by the challenge of the contents of the book and they add to the total experience.

A book to be savoured, re-read and re-enacted.
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on February 14, 2010
Argues from good case studies, and refers back to some of the qualities that made "Social Psychology of Organizing" a truly great book, but it's a bit too cautious and "learned" for my taste. Lots of repetition.
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