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Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions Reprint Edition

57 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0262611466
ISBN-10: 0262611465
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Editorial Reviews Review

Gary Klein studies decision-making in the field, tagging along with firefighters, standing by in intensive-care units, and watching chess masters play lightning-fast "blitz" games to learn how people make choices with time constraints, limited information, and changing goals. From this research, he and his associates have developed a theory of "naturalistic decision-making."

Sources of Power essentially lends the validity of scientific research to techniques that many of us use every day. There's intuition, which is based not on instantaneous insight but on the rapid (perhaps even subconscious) interpretation of perceptual cues. There's mental simulation, a finely honed method of visualization. There's storytelling and metaphor, which enable decision-makers to devise meaningful frameworks and compare their present situations to previous events. Nobody is born with an inherent mastery of these and other techniques, Klein tells us, but we are all born with the capability to develop, through experience, the skill sets experts call upon to make good decisions. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Most studies of decision-making treat humans like rats in a laboratory. But Dr. Klein, a cognitive psychologist, spent a decade watching fire commanders, fighter pilots, paramedics, and others making split-second decisions on the job, and this book is a clear and engaging account of his findings.

(Thomas Petzinger, Jr. The Wall Street Journal)

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (February 26, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262611465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262611466
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,941 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Dr. Gary Klein is a cognitive psychologist and the author of five books, including Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions and his most recent work, Seeing What Others Don't: The Remarkable Ways We Gain Insights. He regularly works with leaders in domains such as healthcare, military, law enforcement, petrochemical industry, social work, and business management to assist them with issues in organizational expertise and workplace insights. Dr. Klein is well known for his ability to communicate complex ideas in psychology through compelling and relatable stories from his research in expertise and decision-making. He has received praise from intellectual icon and storyteller, Malcolm Gladwell, who wrote, "No one has taught me more about the complexities and mysteries of human decision-making than Gary Klein."

Dr. Klein is widely known for changing the landscape of cognitive psychology by pioneering the Naturalistic Decision Making (NDM) movement in 1989. Until this point, psychologists used laboratory settings to study how people make decisions, with a heavy focus on human bias and error in judgment. Dr. Klein flipped the focus to conducting decision research in real world settings, studying how experts including firefighters, military battle commanders, and doctors use intuition and experience to engage in effective decision-making. As one would expect, Dr. Klein's radical new take on cognitive psychology research invited opposition from the traditional community. What is notable, however, is the respect Dr. Klein has received from psychologists and researchers whose perspectives have differed dramatically from his own. As Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman wrote in a recent article, "Gary Klein is a living example of how useful applied psychology can be when it is done well...Klein and I disagree on many things...But I am convinced that there should be more psychologists like him."

Dr. Klein currently works as a Senior Scientist at MacroCognition LLC in Dayton, Ohio and recently started a new company in 2014, ShadowBox LLC, which develops training for organizations that allows novices to think like the experts. He is also a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES), and received the 2008 HFES Jack A. Kraft Innovator Award.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

196 of 201 people found the following review helpful By Mark Wieczorek on December 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
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.
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56 of 57 people found the following review helpful By A. Tiwana on April 13, 2001
Format: Paperback
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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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By D. Stuart on September 25, 2005
Format: Paperback
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 By Cask05 on May 20, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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".
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