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Managing the Unexpected: Resilient Performance in an Age of Uncertainty Hardcover – August 31, 2007

4.4 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Here is the essential book for managers who want to anticipate and adapt to surprises. Weick and Sutcliffe present a set of challenging ideas in a way that is clear and compelling, and then turn these critical insights into practical guidelines that have broad application and relevance.”—Gary Klein, Applied Research Associates and author, Sources of Power



“Of course there is 'nothing new under the sun'—but Karl Weick and Kathleen Sutcliffe come as close as is humanly imaginable in this latest version of Managing the Unexpected. No issue is more timely (alas), and there may be no approach that is more original and thoughtful and useful and data-rich than what you'll find between the covers of this book.”—Tom Peters, author, In Search of Excellence 

For those managing or studying organizations like nuclear power plants and aircraft carrier flight decks, Weick and Sutcliffe's original edition was a godsend, providing a new language and conceptual structure for understanding why some of these organizations perform so much better than othersand helping those who manage in less extreme environments gain to boost their own performance. This latest edition includes valuable new examples and an expanded treatment of the critical concepts of anticipation and containmentand it is filled with useful advice about how to achieve high performance in any setting.”
Herman B. “Dutch” Leonard, George F. Baker, Jr., Professor of Public Management, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University and Eliot I. Snider and Family Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

From the Inside Flap

Since the first edition of Managing the Unexpected was published in 2001, the unexpected has become a growing part of our everyday lives. The unexpected is often dramatic, as with hurricanes or terrorist attacks. But the unexpected can also come in more subtle forms, such as a small organizational lapse that leads to a major blunder, or an unexamined assumption that costs lives in a crisis. Why are some organizations better able than others to maintain function and structure in the face of unanticipated change?

Authors Karl E. Weick and Kathleen M. Sutcliffe answer this question by pointing to high reliability organizations (HROs), such as emergency rooms in hospitals, flight operations of aircraft carriers, and firefighting units, as models to follow. These organizations have developed ways of acting and styles of learning that enable them to manage the unexpected better than other organizations. Thoroughly revised and updated, the second edition of the groundbreaking book Managing the Unexpected uses HROs as a template for any institution that wants to better organize for high reliability.

The authors reveal how HROs create a collective state of mindfulness that produces an enhanced ability to discover and correct errors before they escalate into a crisis. A mindful infrastructure continually

  • Tracks small failures
  • Resists oversimplification
  • Is sensitive to operations
  • Maintains capabilities for resilience
  • Takes advantage of shifting locations of expertise

Through a discussion of the principle of mindfulness and the practices that can be used to apply it, the authors show how to anticipate and respond to threats with flexibility rather than rigidity. Their practical, solutions-oriented approach includes numerous case studies demonstrating mindful practices and enables readers to assess and implement mindfulness in their own organizations.

Managing the Unexpected is a guide for learning the hard-won lessons of high reliability organizations that are able to manage unexpected threats and bounce back in a stronger position to tackle future challenges.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 2 edition (August 31, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0787996491
  • ISBN-13: 978-0787996499
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.8 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,479 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover
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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