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His Decisions Are Out There
on May 20, 2014
Gary Klein is a cognitive psychologist who has "gone native," shifting his focus from the laboratory to the messy world of firefighters, tank commanders, and other naturalistic decision makers. Their work environments are defined by "...time pressure, high stakes, experienced decision makers, inadequate information, ill-defined goals, poorly defined procedures, cue learning, context, dynamic conditions, and team coordination." Instead of cataloging their errors, Klein has identified the mental capabilities that help them succeed. His book presents these "sources of power" for our consideration.
These sources of power include:
- Intuition depends on the use of experience to recognize key patterns.
- Mental simulation is the ability to imagine people and objects through transformations.
- Spotting leverage points means spotting small changes that can make a big difference.
- Experience can be used to focus attention on key features that novices don't notice.
- Stories bring natural order to unstructured situations and emphasize what is important.
- Metaphors apply familiar experiences to new situations to suggest solutions.
- Communicating intentions in a team helps members "read each other's minds."
- Effective teams evolve a "team mind" with shared knowledge, goals, and identity.
- Rational analysis plays an important role, but can be over applied.
The author spends some time with other theories of decision making, emphasizing both their strengths and the sometimes faulty assumptions they incorporate. He makes good points about the inadequacy of decision bias theories to explain successful, real-world decision processes. Klein describes how artificial intelligence and other computational theories reduce decision making to a search through a well-defined set of alternatives. Most decisions, he argues, are not so well structured.
Klein likes to stay close to his data. The book reflects this in the space given to detailed decision making examples he has used to develop and test his theories. In addition to a traditional Table of Contents and lists of Tables and Figures, there is also a list of fifty-two Examples, allowing readers quick access to these cases. Klein also links his theories back to decision making contexts he expects readers to encounter. Each chapter ends with an Applications section that identifies practical implications for decisions out there in the world.
This is a thought-provoking book, grounded in both applied research and practical experience. It is profitable reading for anyone who strives to make better decisions.