- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Press (March 20, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780735222632
- ISBN-13: 978-0735222632
- ASIN: 0735222630
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 62 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It Hardcover – March 20, 2018
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“Meltdown effectively conveys why addressing systemic failures is both difficult and essential. . . . Where Meltdown really hits its stride is in taking on the factors that promote groupthink and discourage dissent.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Analysis of why things go wrong is always more exciting to read than praise for everything working out. . . . A compellingly written investigation of interesting case studies in calamity.”—Financial Times, Business Books of the Month
“Thought-provoking. . . . Clearfield and Tilcsik colorfully explain why your job, like everyone else’s in today’s global economy, is becoming part of bigger networks of co-dependent systems, laden with unforeseeable risks and unimaginable outcomes. . . . The readers also offer some calming practical advice you can pack as a parachute. Read their pages and maybe, just maybe, you can avoid—or at least minimize—your own forthcoming descent into chaos.”—Forbes
“Endlessly fascinating, brimming with insight, and more fun than a book about failure has any right to be, Meltdown will transform how you think about the systems that govern our lives. This is a wonderful book.”—Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better
“Meltdown is not for the faint of heart. In crisp, compelling prose, Christopher Clearfield and András Tilcsik explain why failures occur so often in today’s unfathomably complex systems. Their insights and takeaways offer crucial guidance for avoiding your own disasters.”—Daniel H. Pink, author of To Sell is Human and Drive
“Too often, we blame failures on bad apples when the real culprits are bad barrels. This engaging, evidence-based book sheds light on why blunders and bankruptcies happen—and how you can get better at designing systems to prevent them.”—Adam Grant, author of Originals and co-author of Option B
“Meltdown is essential reading for any leader. We are all human. We all make mistakes. But in complex, whirlwind environments, those mistakes can spiral quickly out of control. This book can help.”
—Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of Unfinished Business
“As technology advances, it brings an explosion of complexity and interdependence that can threaten our most critical systems and organizations in unforeseen ways. Meltdown is essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand these dangers and what can be done to address them.”—Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots
“It is rare to have the pleasure of reading a book that tackles a complex issue and provides a new way of thinking that is both rigorous and practical. Meltdown is such a book. I not only enjoyed it but also learned a lot about the world—most of it utterly counterintuitive—and even something important about myself. A valuable read for anyone who would rather shape their world than just let it happen to them.”—Roger Martin, author of The Design of Business
“A cautionary study in how complex systems can easily go awry… A useful, thought-provoking book.”—Kirkus
About the Author
Chris Clearfield is a former derivatives trader who worked in New York, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. He is a licensed commercial pilot and a graduate of Harvard University, where he studied physics and biology. Chris has written about complexity and failure for The Guardian, Forbes, and the Harvard Kennedy School Review. He lives in Seattle.
András Tilcsik holds the Canada Research Chair in Strategy, Organizations, and Society at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management. He has been recognized as one of the world's top forty business professors under forty and as one of thirty management thinkers most likely to shape the future of organizations. The United Nations named his course on organizational failure as the best course on disaster risk management in a business school. He lives in Toronto.
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The thesis is illustrated rather than proven- this is journalistic non-fiction, not academics. However, the illustration is both compelling and entertaining. The authors take familiar but seemingly disparate disasters- the Flint water crisis, the space shuttle explosions, the Three Mile Island and Fukushima nuclear crises, and so on, explain how these systems were both complex and tightly-coupled, and show how those features lead to disastrous results. They then go on to show how these issues have been dealt with successfully in certain industries and organizations (e.g., US aviation, the Jet Propulsion Lab) and show how these countermeasures are generally applicable.
I found the "complex tightly-coupled" framework and its application to familiar crises eye-opening and thought the suggested counter-measures made sense. A worthwhile read for anyone who is interested in how disasters happen or who is involved in running any large system.
From the start of the book, I knew I was in for a ride. The authors set the tone with a brief but vivid story, one that concisely conveys a person’s life, only to see that life cut violently short in a system meltdown. A tragic beginning – and a profound start – one that foreshadows the rest of book’s storytelling approach of connecting personal stories to big ideas. With stories like this, carried on throughout the entire book, Meltdown overcomes a crucial roadblock to making social science accessible to a general audience: reader motivation. More simply put, Meltdown keeps us reading through its presentation of vivid imagery and detailed storytelling.
As readers, we can come for the stories, but then stay for the science. That’s the other big component of Meltdown, of course; the storytelling is all in the service of making a set of social scientifically grounded arguments. And those social scientific accounts are, at least as far as I’m concerned, highly credible. Tilcsik and Clearfield draw on a wealth of organizational, sociological, and psychological research to make their case, reaching back to some of the social scientific classics (e.g., Simmel, Perrow) to more recent research. It is all very effectively done.
Moreover, the science is clearly and accessibly communicated. Social scientific theory is brought stunningly to life—most thoroughly so in the chapter about Perrow’s foundational work—through that same storytelling strength that courses through the veins of Clearfield and Tilcsik’s book. In fact, the science is so well communicated and illustrated that, practically speaking, I have found myself not quite being able to shut up about Meltdown in day-to-day conversations. I’ve regaled both academic colleagues and friends from outside the field of organization theory with insights and stories from Meltdown—and suddenly, the conversation gets a lot more interesting. Or more interesting to me, at least, because I'm a nerd. Anyway.
That comes to my final point. You can actually use this book. If you pay enough attention to the book’s insights and implications, both obvious and subtle, you can definitely gain something from it—whether it is in figuring out which part of your system is most prone to disaster through an analysis of its complexity and coupling, increasing the transparency and objectivity of your decision-making processes, trying to build more slack into your Thanksgiving dinners, or intentionally getting out of your comfort zones with diverse and dissenting teams. Or maybe it’s about sharing the book’s stories and ideas with friends and colleagues and starting an interesting dialogue.