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Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions [Paperback]

by Gary Klein
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)

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Book Description

February 26, 1999 0262611465 978-0262611466 Reprint

Anyone who watches the television news has seen images of firefighters rescuing people from burning buildings and paramedics treating bombing victims. How do these individuals make the split-second decisions that save lives? Most studies of decision making, based on artificial tasks assigned in laboratory settings, view people as biased and unskilled. Gary Klein is one of the developers of the naturalistic decision making approach, which views people as inherently skilled and experienced. It documents human strengths and capabilities that so far have been downplayed or ignored.

Since 1985, Klein has conducted fieldwork to find out how people tackle challenges in difficult, nonroutine situations. Sources of Power is based on observations of humans acting under such real-life constraints as time pressure, high stakes, personal responsibility, and shifting conditions. The professionals studied include firefighters, critical care nurses, pilots, nuclear power plant operators, battle planners, and chess masters. Each chapter builds on key incidents and examples to make the description of the methodology and phenomena more vivid. In addition to providing information that can be used by professionals in management, psychology, engineering, and other fields, the book presents an overview of the research approach of naturalistic decision making and expands our knowledge of the strengths people bring to difficult tasks.

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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)

Product Details

  • Paperback: 348 pages
  • Publisher: The MIT Press; Reprint edition (February 26, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0262611465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262611466
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,696 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Gary Klein is a Senior Scientist at Applied Research Associates. He is the author of Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions (1999) and the coauthor of Working Minds: A Practitioner's Guide to Cognitive Task Analysis (2006), both published by the MIT Press.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
186 of 190 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Required Reading 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.
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53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Truly thinking out-of-the-box, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED April 13, 2001
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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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
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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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful
By Cask05
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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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Remarkable paradigm change in decision theory
The introduction of a new idea or paradigm in decision-making is always a treat, and the concept of learning decision decisions that evalaute ' solutions 'one at a time' rather... Read more
Published 5 days ago by John Paine
2.0 out of 5 stars OK
If you need a foil for your thinking then get this book. I found it to be useful, but only marginally.
Published 8 days ago by P. Zimmermann
5.0 out of 5 stars Practical guide.
The framework presented , is an ah moment, and makes so much sense; after you've read the methodology and digested the case studies.
Published 1 month ago by Brian D. Labatte
5.0 out of 5 stars An inspiring, well reasoned inquiry into how the best decisions are...
I consider Gary Klein's work to be required reading as a counterpoint to the work of Daniel Kahneman, the famed psychologist who recently won a Nobel Prize for economics. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Benjamin S Grinberg
5.0 out of 5 stars A scholar in recognitive decision-making
As Daniel Kahneman define System 1 and 2, he focused on the merits of System 2. Klein is Kahneman's Yan with his treatment of System 2 thinking.
Published 13 months ago by loflier
5.0 out of 5 stars Eyeopener
This conclusions of this book open up new ways of attacking problems of human decision making.
A must for anyone interested in the way people make decisions.
Published 13 months ago by Dams Jan
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book
great insight into how we decided by investigating decisions made in pressured situation.

I never got the principles of pattens and who would gain from that... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Data driven insights in crisis decision making
Dr. Klein does an outstanding job of taking a complex (and often misunderstood) topic and creating a frame work that is both logical and supported by data.

Dr. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Richard Staats
5.0 out of 5 stars IMPORTANT, BUT MORE IS NEEDED
This book is based on close study of real decision making, such as by firefighters, medical staffs, and military commanders. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Yehezkel Dror
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth reading
If you are looking for anwsers about decision making, so dont through this book. But if you want to learn about this topic, there is no better place to go, get a copy and enjoy!
Published 22 months ago by Ivan Perez
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