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Never Saw It Coming: Cultural Challenges to Envisioning the Worst Paperback – September 15, 2006

ISBN-13: 978-0226100333 ISBN-10: 0226100332 Edition: 1st

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Katrina, 9/11, and the War in Iraq—all demonstrate the costliness of failing to anticipate worst-case scenarios. Never Saw It Coming explains why it is so hard to do so: adaptive behavior hard-wired into human cognition is complemented and reinforced by cultural practices, which are in turn institutionalized in the rules and structures of formal organizations. But Karen Cerulo doesn’t just diagnose the problem; she uses case studies of settings in which people effectively anticipate and deal with potential disaster to describe structural solutions to the chronic dilemmas she describes so well. Never Saw It Coming is a powerful contribution to the emerging fields of cognitive and moral sociology.”--Paul DiMaggio, Princeton University



 

(Paul DiMaggio 2006-06-13)

“In Never Saw It Coming, Karen Cerulo argues that in American society there is a ‘positive symmetry,’ a tendency to focus on and exaggerate the best, the winner, the most optimistic outcome and outlook. Thus, the conceptions of the worst are underdeveloped and elided. Naturally, as she masterfully outlines, there are dramatic consequences to this characterological inability to imagine and prepare for the worst, as the failure to heed memos leading up to both the 9/11 and NASA Challenger disasters, for instance, so painfully reminded us.”--Robin Wagner-Pacifici, Swarthmore College



 

(Robin Wagner-Pacifici 2006-06-13)

"Everybody respects a good attitude, but no amount of magical thinking will make the universe obey our wishes. . . . We're addicted to positive thinking, Oprah. And The Secret has sent the whole world on a bender. You and maybe you alone, can rein it in. . . . Why not invite Cerulo on your show? What's the worse that could happen?"
(John Gravois Slate)

"Never Saw It Coming is a work of disciplined imagination at its best. Lucid and persuasive, written with charm and humor, it is a model of how to think about the relationships among culture, cognition, and social structure."
(Robert Zussman Contemporary Sociology 2008-02-04)

"A welcome addition. . . . The reader comes away from this book with a new appreciation of the need for mindful attention, resilient action, and skills of improvisation. With these three resources as part of an action repertoire, we will go a long way toward acknowledging and preparing for worst-case scenarios."
(Karl E. Weick American Journal of Sociology)

From the Inside Flap

People—especially Americans—are by and large optimists. They are much better at imagining best-case scenarios (I could win the lottery!) than worst-case scenarios (A hurricane could destroy my neighborhood!). This is true not just of their approaches to imagining the future, but of their memories as well: people are better able to describe the best moments of their lives than they are the worst.

Though there are psychological reasons for this phenomenon, Karen A. Cerulo, in Never Saw It Coming, considers instead the role of society in fostering this attitude. What kinds of communities develop this pattern of thought, which do not, and what does that say about human ability to evaluate possible outcomes of decisions and events?

Cerulo takes readers to diverse realms of experience, including intimate family relationships, key transitions in our lives, the places we work and play, and the boardrooms of organizations and bureaucracies. Using interviews, surveys, artistic and fictional accounts, media reports, historical data, and official records, she illuminates one of the most common, yet least studied, of human traits—a blatant disregard for worst-case scenarios. Never Saw It Coming, therefore, will be crucial to anyone who wants to understand human attempts to picture or plan the future.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 1 edition (September 15, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226100332
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226100333
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,846,284 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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28 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Richard G. Petty on March 18, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
We are constantly being exhorted to be positive: think positive, be positive, smile a lot, and the world will be your oyster! And don't you dare start looking into the reasons why something has happened in your life or business, because you might come up with a negative answer and then you'll feel bad!

Everywhere we see lists of the strongest and fastest athletes and the greatest price savings. When we construct lists of the awful, it is usually to celebrate their awfulness. Most of us have a natural tendency to avert our eyes from the truly abysmal.

For some people, negative thoughts are just their way of dealing with the world or to protect the integrity of their egos. Trying to make these sturdy souls into happy smiling people can sometimes be a recipe for disaster.

Now this new book by Karen Cerulo suggests that the constant cultural pressure to be optimistic may sometimes be counter-productive. The book is divided into eight chapters:

Chapter One: What's the Worst That Could Happen?

Chapter Two: The Breadth and Scope of Positive Asymmetry

Chapter Three: Practicing Positive Asymmetry

Chapter Four: Positive Asymmetry and the Subjective Side of Scientific Measurement

Chapter Five: Being Labeled the Worst--Real in Its Consequences?

Chapter Six: Exceptions to the Rule

Chapter Seven: Emancipating Structures and Cognitive Styles

Chapter Eight: Can Symmetrical Vision Be Achieved?

Followed by "Notes" and "References."

Karen coins a name for our unbalanced view of the world - "positive asymmetry" - to capture the way in which we emphasize the best and overlook the worst.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Paul A. Peters on May 29, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I draw the title for this review from a series of articles on Slate.com that discuss the power that negative thinking, or being prepared, can have on our society. This book forms an important part of that article and contributes to a continued debate regarding how our society tends to accentuate the positive.

Karen Cerulo provides us with a readable, albeit academic, book about how we planning and preparing for "worst-case" scenarios is what keeps our society going. More importantly, what can help to prevent disasters, disease outbreaks, and provide for public safety. I highly recommend this book for people who are interested in this debate, especially those who are skeptical of the more-popular book "The Secret".
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