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# The Logic of Failure: Recognizing and Avoiding Error in Complex Situations

Why do we make mistakes? Are there certain errors common to failure, whether in a complex enterprise or daily life? In this truly indispensable book, Dietrich Dörner identifies what he calls the “logic of failure”—certain tendencies in our patterns of thought that, while appropriate to an older, simpler world, prove disastrous for the complex world we live in now. Working
...more

Paperback, 240 pages

Published
August 4th 1997
by Basic Books
(first published May 31st 1996)

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## Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,396)

Probably our main shortcoming is that we like to oversimplify problems. Dörner offers a long list of self-defeating behaviors, but common to all of them is our reluctance to see any problem is part of a whole system of interacting factors. Any problem is much more complex than we like to belie ...more

"[in relationship to good and bad planners] The good participants differed from the bad ones in that they tested their hypotheses. The bad participants failed to do this. For them, to propose a hypothesis was to understand reality; testing that hypothesis was unnecessary. Instead of generating hypotheses, they generated 'truths'."

Or in other words, dangling truths unconnected from reality.

The entire book is full of real world case studies and experiment ...more

In addition to real world situations (Chernobyl, for example) the author describes various laboratory experim ...more

This is a book I always have on hand for reference.

I also gave this book five stars because it makes the subject accessible beyond academia.

A couple of examples from the book:

"It seems likely that the capacity to tolerate uncertainty has something to do with how our participants behaved. When someone si ...more

Jul 09, 2007
Wendy
rated it
really liked it

Recommends it for:
anyone interested in why people in power screw up

Shelves:
sciencebooks

The author of this book is a social scientist who uses computer simulations as a way of studying human problem-solving behavior. Some of his insights into why people have problems dealing with complex situations:

- People have trouble understanding processes that work over time. People tend to respond to the situation, rather than to the process that produces the situation, leading them to overshoot or undershoot in their response.

- Both good problem solvers and bad problem solvers develop hypot ...more

- People have trouble understanding processes that work over time. People tend to respond to the situation, rather than to the process that produces the situation, leading them to overshoot or undershoot in their response.

- Both good problem solvers and bad problem solvers develop hypot ...more

He gives examples of problem solving situations and the responses of participants and then analyses why some did well and others fared poorly. Failures in complex situations (as are most of the problems in our larger world) are due to inability to ...more

In addition, his basic attitude was that people fail becuse they arent't as smart as he is, although h ...more

May 31, 2016
George Anderson
added it

great

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“If we want to solve problems effectively...we must keep in mind not only many features but also the influences among them. Complexity is the label we will give to the existence of many interdependent variables in a given system. The more variables and the greater their interdependence, the greater the system's complexity. Great complexity places high demands on a planner's capacity to gather information, integrate findings, and design effective actions. The links between the variables oblige us to attend to a great many features simultaneously, and that, concomitantly, makes it impossible for us to undertake only one action in a complex system.

A system of variables is "interrelated" if an action that affects or meant to affect one part of the system will also affect other parts of it. Interrelatedness guarantees that an action aimed at one variable will have side effects and long-term repercussions. A large number of variables will make it easy to overlook them.

We might think of complexity could be regarded as an objective attribute of systems. We might even think we could assign a numerical value to it, making it, for instance, the product of the number of features times the number of interrelationships. If a system had ten variables and five links between them, then its "complexity quotient", measured in this way would be fifty. If there are no links, its complexity quotient would be zero. Such attempts to measure the complexity of a system have in fact been made.

Complexity is not an objective factor but a subjective one. Supersignals reduce complexity, collapsing a number of features into one. Consequently, complexity must be understood in terms of a specific individual and his or her supply of supersignals. We learn supersignals from experience, and our supply can differ greatly from another individual's. Therefore there can be no objective measure of complexity.”
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More quotes…
A system of variables is "interrelated" if an action that affects or meant to affect one part of the system will also affect other parts of it. Interrelatedness guarantees that an action aimed at one variable will have side effects and long-term repercussions. A large number of variables will make it easy to overlook them.

We might think of complexity could be regarded as an objective attribute of systems. We might even think we could assign a numerical value to it, making it, for instance, the product of the number of features times the number of interrelationships. If a system had ten variables and five links between them, then its "complexity quotient", measured in this way would be fifty. If there are no links, its complexity quotient would be zero. Such attempts to measure the complexity of a system have in fact been made.

Complexity is not an objective factor but a subjective one. Supersignals reduce complexity, collapsing a number of features into one. Consequently, complexity must be understood in terms of a specific individual and his or her supply of supersignals. We learn supersignals from experience, and our supply can differ greatly from another individual's. Therefore there can be no objective measure of complexity.”