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195 of 200 people found the following review helpful
on December 1, 2001
Traditional decision making models, according to Gary Klein, are built in academia, studied in labs where the circumstances are carefully controlled, and the test subject unfamiliar with the material. Decision making in the real world is something altogether different.
According to traditional decision making models, first you gather data, then you compile and compare options and decide on a course of action. Studying fire commanders, officers in the military, chess players, and many others in high pressured decision making positions, Klein came to the conclusion that you are more likely to come up with one course of action, run through it mentally to look for flaws. If you don't find any flaws in your model, you act on it, if you do find flaws, you do come up with another possible course of action, but you never compare two options, weighing the pros and cons of each. You simply don't have the time or energy.
Time pressure doesn't just apply to fire commanders and military leaders. It seems that this model holds up to people working under a deadlines that are weeks or months away as well.
Klein calls this the "Recognition Primed" decision making model (RPD). In essence, you compare quickly (and often unconsciously) the situation you're in with a sort of master story of previous situations you've been in. You can then recognize features that are analagous to, or different from, these earlier experiences, allowing you to form accurate mental models and intuit courses of action.
Because of this, experience is extremely important in the decision makin process. If you do not have past experience to draw from, you are more likely to fall back on the traditional decision making models - gathering data and options and weighing them. The more experienced you are, the more clearly you can see a situation for what it is and act quickly. Therefore, training should be geared not towards imparting knowledge, but towards bringing people up to speed and imparting experience. Storytelling as a great way to pass on experience, drills and simulations are also valuable.
In chapter 13, where most books are winding down and getting repetitive, Klein describes "considerations for communicating intent." This chapter, entitled The Power to Read Minds, Klein tells us that giving a laundry list of instructions can be detrimental. It is important that we communicate intent. What we want, why we want it, what considerations we took into account in coming to these conclusions, an image of the desired end state, important decision points and possible obstacles along the way. There's another point or two, but I don't recall offhand.
It may seem obvious, but if these things haven't been clearly communicated, each person will have their own interpretation of their instructions, or even worse, have no understanding of the situation and goals at all and be unable to act if unexpected circumstances should arise. If you clearly communicate intent, people should be able to improvise to get to the end state rather than being stuck trying to figure out your intent based on your instructions. It's a real time saver too because you don't have to think of every contingency and plan for it. You simply have to ensure everyone understands your intent.
This chapter has been especially helpful to me. In the week or so since I've read it, I've used it to speed up meetings, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and has the same understanding of the situation. I've also used it to put together formal proposals, ensuring the client gets what they want.
In a meeting recently, when I saw that everyone was coming up with ideas that conflicted with each other, I asked the meeting leader (in different words) "what is it you're trying to accomplish? what is the end state you envision? what obstacles do you see to us getting there?" Things she had surely taken into consideration, but had not communicated clearly to us.
While everyone else was weighing the options she laid out, stuck on "following instructions," I proposed something she hadn't though of. It was in line with her goals and within the constraints we were given, but not one of the options she thought of, and unlike anything we'd done before. Because I understood the situation clearly I was able to think "outside the box" to come up with a solution. She loved my proposal and the focus of the meeting changed immediately to methods for putting my plan into action.
Reading this lucid and intelligent account of the "Recognition Primed" decision making model lays a good groundwork for decision making, and we all make decisions. It doesn't try to tell you how to make decisions, it simply describes how they are made. Beyond just decision making, the chapters for communcating intent, and the team mind have been real eye openers as well. Each chapter has something to offer, and while the book builds on itself, once you've read it, you can (and will) jump around and re-read chapters or sections that are important to you. A well labelled table of contents and index are included to quickly help you find information.
I found it highly readable, well put together, and extremely insightful. Though the tools it gives me lay more in the experience of reading it than the information imparted, I find myself quoting this book constantly, or referring back to it. I'm tempted to buy a second copy for my home (I keep my copy on my office bookshelf). I recommend it to everyone who takes an interest in learning about decision making in the real world.
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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful
This is an excellent book on decision making. I borrowed a copy at my library. Once I started reading it, I realized that this actually belonged to an serious business reader's bookshelf. I went out and bought a copy. There are several features that make this book a must-have: 1. The author's tlk about decision making under high pressure 2. Time, as in real life, is at premium 3. There is often little opportunity to do detailed analysis as our graduate school textbooks showed us. 4. There is a lot more to decisions than rational choice models.
This book takes all this into account. The authors present a coherent argument. The book's logical organization makes thier points easy to grasp. This book will be of value to both managers and researchers. Unlike many other books on decison making, this one is based on rigirous research spannig many years---not one guy's opinions. Buy it, highlight it, dog-ear it, and absorb it. Sources of Power is truly an excellent source of power about a new, integrative way of thinking. EXCELLENT READ.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2005
Sources of Power is a fine volume that systematically dismantles classical "rational decisionmaking" (lets get a whiteboard and compare strengths and weaknesses shall we?) and sets out a wide array of decision-making techniques that we use, often quite unconsciously. These include (and the list here is far from exhaustive):

- Recognition primed decision making.
- The power to spot leverage points.
- Seeing the invisible, or the big picture.
- Storytelling, metaphors and analogues.
- The power of the team mind.

Rather than grind us through the theory, Klein packs this book with analogies and case studies, well told, that illustrate the points and provide a platform for explaining what it is that's going on when people - often in critical life and death situations - need to make the right decisions. There's no time for a whiteboard session when you're confronting an inferno.

Plenty of people can benefit from this volume. It serves as an excellent introduction to decision theory, an insightful approach to understanding the human mind and a practical manual for qualitative researchers who wish to gain more from their interviews. Quite often, as Klein demonstrates, people make massive decisions without even being aware they're doing so.

Is there a downside here? My only gripe is Klein's tendency to promote his own firm and to remind us that Klein Associates does things to a high degree of professionalism. This occurs to the point where an excellent text takes on, just slightly, the patina of self promotion. But that's a minor thing in the big scheme. "Sources of Power" is useful reading.
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42 of 48 people found the following review helpful
on May 20, 2001
After a year has passed since having read this book and since also having delved into QFD, AHP, MAUT, heuristics and biases (Kahneman, Slovic & Tversky),etc., I've had the opportunity to generate a decision methodologies course. I came back to this material as a central theme for the course. Why? Because, in practice, traditional decision support methodologies (mentioned above) usually fail to reach their goal - which is to take real people and get them to make better decisions. Sources of Power provides a framework for understanding about how real people make decisions - novices, journeymen and experts - and how they differ. Because the Klein Associates' Recognition-Primed Decision model (RPD) begins to explain expertise's properties, some surprising things fall out: experts typically do not weigh alternatives in trade-study fashion. Experts must be able to see the context of the raw data, not just processed data. Now we can understand the limitations of collaboration tools as "the answer" for integrated product development. Expertise must be supported, not IT-based solutions. This leads to totally different thinking about how to train people to make better decisions and not just in time-critical domains.

With the insights related above, this opens some doors to new ways of understanding why other techniques fail. When formulating a decision problem, the goal must be carefully formulated. Sources of Power will subtly change your approach. Without this understanding of decision support methods, your chances of solving the wrong problem go up exponentially: when you remove expertise from the difficult problem-solving domain, no decision method can save you.

Note that multi-attribute problems still need methodology support: problems comparing "apples, oranges & bananas". See Robyn Dawes' "The Robust Beauty of Improper Linear Models" from "Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases".

What do you do in a group decision-making environment? Delphi? QFD? AHP? MAUT? Once your emphasis changes from "canned" decision-support approaches to context-sensitive approaches then your entire perspective changes. The combination of domain expertise and the other decision support methods forms a new path.

But how do you combine these methods? Sources of Power doesn't provide you a canned answer but it definitely provides you a path - a necessary one for understanding and improving successful decision making.

Tell your colleagues about this book, and let them form their own (expert) opinion.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 1999
Although I am not a professional in this area, I have had many experiences that required me to learn how people make decisions. This book goes a long way toward explaining these processes and provides plenty of examples to learn from. Not only does Gary Klein present his results, he covers how the data were obtained, its analysis, his assumptions, and how the conclusions were reached. It provides great insight into one's own thinking and decision making process. I was truly amazed at how readable this book was and how thoroughly real life examples were analyzed. I would recommend it to anyone in any field.
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54 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2005
It has become popular of late to espouse the power of intuition in decision making. This goes against years of studies centered around the concept of bounded rationality which concluded that we humans often aren't very good at making decisions, and aren't nearly as smart as we like to think. Maybe Klein is trying to give decision makers some hope that good decisions can be made.

Klein, by examining experts in their field, concludes that intuition works. His conclusions do hold some weight are are reasonably argued; however I would add one compelling point which sets a firm boundary to his main conclusions: he examines people who are making decisions in a decision space which is clearly defined and largly restricted to their specific field of expertise. In such a clearly defined decision space intuition (based on great experience and previous mistakes undoubtedly) is probably effective. However, it is my premise that using such strategies in a decision space where is expertise is limited, intuitive decision strategies can lead to disasterous results. Unfortunately, most problems fall into the category where the solution strategy cannot solely be based on one particular area of expertise.

Also, there is the well known issue (and often fase decision path) of "all problems look like nails when I'm really good with a hammer." It is all too common to apply a certain expertise to a decision where that skill does not fit well -- or doesn't fit at all.

In the end solid analysis from a variety of perspectives, pursued with some rigor will outperform intuition in the long term. And even if it doesn't a more formal analysis will at least make it easier to track back to the causes of the inevitable faulty decision. Intuition may work in some narrowly bounded cases, as Klein should have been stronger in pointing out. Intuition is certainly faster but it can be a perilous path with some severe limitations in many decision-making scenarios.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on December 6, 1999
There is a lot of literature on how decisions should be made, but very little about how they are made under extreme pressure, when there is no time for heavy analysis. This books shows how experts at fast decision-making, such as firefighters and police officers, do it. It explains the value of lore and the fascination we all have with it. Importantly, it shows a lot about how to use lore to become an expert, oneself. It is a real contribution to decision-making literature.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
This book is packed with insights, substantiated by research and observation.

Klein takes some valid issue with traditional decision-making theorists. For instance, he notes that the "tests" which demonstrate that the availiability heuristic (a phenomenon which contaminates decisions) uses selective data which thereby skews the results. It seems that where Klein is going with this exposition, and the whole of the book, is to say that you can't rely on decision-making rigors.

The case studies are fascinating and they provide a compelling argument for the "something else" that takes over in high-stakes, complex decision-making contexts. Elegant, brilliant decision-makers don't list pros and cons, nor delibertately cite heuristics at play or even run simulation models with likely payoffs. Rather, they have a store of knowledge -- stories, vignettes and ideas they have seen played out. That, Klein says, is expertise. At the end of the day, expertise in what he calls "natural" settings (i.e., not classrooms nor computers) is what is at the heart of brilliant decisions.

However, the utility of this book is not that it replaces traditional decision-making theory, in my humble opinion. One might conclude that Klein has proven that trusting your gut and going on instinct is the preferred decision-making technique. Instead, what this book shows -- wonderfully -- is the virtuousity in decision-making that can be attained after years of disciplined decsion-making. You can't get to virtuosity without practice -- be it in art, music, sports and even decision-making.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on January 22, 2005
This book is definitively one of the most eye opening publications I've ever read. It poses several interesting issues related to the way people make decisions and why experts have a certain "intuition" which the author ends up demystifying and explaining to the rest of us.

The chapter about team work is also one of the most eye opening sections. I believe this books should be included in the curriculum of every school that bases its programs in the concept of teamwork. This book should be a mandatory text for very MBA and even for film students (if you see my profile you could tell filmmaking is my passion and one of my areas of expertise).

If the title is what made you look at these reviews and if the concept sounds interesting, believe me, the book will surpass your expectations. The examples are very clear and understandable and the knowledge could be applied to almost every field, since all fields of knowledge and of economic activity require both expertise and decision-making. The case style used throughout the book to sustain the different concepts it introduces are also an excellent way to make it self sustainable. If you are not certain, buy it, believe me.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on April 25, 2000
For someone with high management/administration responsibility, many of the examples and anecdotes described in the books would shed light on how your organisation as a whole could go wrong, eg, mis-communications, failure to spot symptoms due to inexperience of staff etc. But the bulk of the book is not (at least directly) on how individuals make decision in particular situations. It will be five stars if it could be more focused and systematic. Anyway if all the lessons are remembered and applied, a manager will make much less management mistakes and devise better management systems to avoid those mistakes. All in all, a very good and rare book.
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