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

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  517 Ratings  ·  45 Reviews
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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Apr 21, 2012 Ron rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
Dietrich Dörner is an authority on cognitive behavior and a psychology professor at the University of Bamberg, Germany. His research shows that our habits as problem solvers are typically counterproductive.

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
Fred Leland
Dec 25, 2012 Fred Leland rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book that got me to thinking aboput taking whole or systems thinking when it comes to complex problem solving. We all too often think about only our role in the problem solving prcess which can have detrimental effects in the long term. The Logic of Failure lays out the foundation behind failures and then does a masterful job of explaining the how too learn from and minimize failure with both an explicit and implict view. I recommend the book to any looking tpo becominga better problem sol ...more
Robert Bor
Sep 01, 2013 Robert Bor rated it it was ok
I did not like this book. I am no academic, but I was appalled by the fact that the findings of this book are founded on such a small population of observations made in game-like scenarios. And then, to move from the specific to the generic, with broad strokes of the brush. A presumptuous book full of truisms. The one thing to take away from this book is that real-life systems are complex and not easily understood by humans.
Aug 06, 2013 Paul rated it it was amazing
Shelves: system-theory
This quote from the book sums it up well:

"[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
May 09, 2011 Mark rated it really liked it
I re-read this recently and it held up quite well.It is probably the closest thing to self-help, psychology or a business advice book I would read. I'm not getting soft or developing ambitions of business consulting; it is academic, analytical, and focuses on failures and fiascos. The subject is how poorly and predictably our intuition and thought patterns serves us in complex situations.

In addition to real world situations (Chernobyl, for example) the author describes various laboratory experim
Temy Chonos
Sep 30, 2015 Temy Chonos rated it really liked it
Working with intriguing computer simulations of his own invention,Dorner exposes these flaws in our thinking. His examples-sometimes hilarious,sometimes horrifying-and brain-teasing thought experiments teach us how to solve complex problems.Awesome work for planning and decision making that bolster rational thinking skills of businessman or government officials or single mom..
TK Keanini
This is the best book I've read on the patterns common to all failures. It cuts to a very fundamental limit of our cognition and reasoning. When we build systems that challenge our perception or cognitive capacities, we are just asking for trouble.

This is a book I always have on hand for reference.
Not what I expected. Rather than looking at real situations, this book looks at awesome videogame simulations of highly chaotic (in the mathematic sense) planning scenarios! Like playing discretized sim city, or playing 'balance the predators and prey'. The whole time they were describing how the good vs bad players played I was thinking 'come on, this basically seems like an IQ test'. Then they said that it didn't correlate at all with IQ, and talked about cool other rationality things. Like it ...more
Jul 24, 2015 TheF7Pawn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Herr Dorner gives us an important book that provides insights into human shortcomings in recognizing and dealing with complex situations. It’s not that we’re not smart, but our cognitive processes are in turn, petulant, impatient, and lazy. Happily, Dorner provides some assistance in meeting the challenge of complex situations; so, this volume has both theoretical and practical applications. This work has important implications for military strategists, statesmen, and public policy practitioners ...more
Ian Fleischmann
Jan 20, 2015 Ian Fleischmann rated it liked it
Dörner presents a good intro to decision-making in complex environments, however many of his recommendations could be shrugged off as common sense. Good problem solvers use clear goals (and intermediary goals) with accurate mental models which they refine over time. Poor problem solvers fail to account for conditions they want to leave unchanged, use less clear or precise language to express goals, and speak in absolutes. The only advice Dörner gives with which I disagree is his characterizatio ...more
Andrea James
Jan 01, 2015 Andrea James rated it it was amazing
I gave this book five stars partly because I think decisions in complex situations are not explored enough and far too few people are paying sufficient attention to this problem. Most aren't even aware that that they are not aware of the problem.

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
Dietrich Dörner calls himself a "theoretical psychologist" and is a leading authority on decision-making theory or applied cognitive behavior. A psychology professor at the University of Bamberg in Germany, Dietrich recently visited Fort Leavenworth to speak to Faculty and Students of CGSS, SAMS, and an organizational I'll call the "Red Team". This book is about the challenges we face in trying to understand and solve problems involving complex systems. He addresses the typical shortcomings plan ...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
Jun 28, 2011 Peter rated it liked it
Fascinating - the psychology of how we, as humans, fail and try to cope with these failures. The only reason not to give it 4 stars was that it is translated (very well) from German, so most of his references are to German language books, articles etc.
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
Jul 18, 2016 Jared rated it really liked it
the author explore that most failure actually come from human ignorance. be it the scholar, college student or any ordinary people. Via deliberation & consciousness, the change of failure occurance may be diminished, not all lost all together though. still its a good read.
Sep 27, 2016 Val rated it it was amazing
It was a good self-help book. It made me notice things I do to prevent me from succeeding. I highly recommend it. The text is a bit dry, but if you can extract the information out of it, it will be worth your while.
Jim Morrison
Feb 23, 2012 Jim Morrison rated it liked it
I loved reading this book because DÖrner presents data from controlled experiments. He analyzes the psychology of complex systems and speculates on the motivation for the behavior of the participants.All that was well done and well written. The chapter on exponential growth could have been shorter and accomplished the same thing. The down side to the book is that when he gets into the self-help mode he isn't gets into an area not supported by the evidence. I would have thought a cognitive psycho ...more
Bryant Macfarlane
Jan 26, 2016 Bryant Macfarlane rated it really liked it
Great book. Humorous yet insightful, Dörner points to the logical fallacy of our cognitive selves. I'd definitely recommend this.
Mar 25, 2013 Annm rated it it was ok
Ultimately, the author of this book was just stringing a bunch of anecdotes together to try to prove that simulated gaming would be a good training method. I work with people who make a living at develooing and employing such games, and know how to actually use the scientific method, unlike this guy, who couldn't even bother to find ay scientific references for the poijnts he was trying to make.

In addition, his basic attitude was that people fail becuse they arent't as smart as he is, although h
May 25, 2015 P.a.jayaprakash rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Fantastic book, Expresses the logic of failure of decision. So many experimental facts but find very difficult in last chapter coz too many information and facts. I think the last chapter should have been distributed equally on previous chapters. So raw, made to read few time before closing the book. Thanks its a great voyage of decision making.
Shicheng Huang
Jul 28, 2016 Shicheng Huang rated it really liked it
Wish I have found this book earlier
Mark Lacy
Jan 13, 2014 Mark Lacy rated it really liked it
A good book which should be read by more people. As I read it, I worried whether I was guilty of any of the errors the people described in the book were making.
May 19, 2014 Stephen rated it it was amazing

Excellent work describing what happens when we problem solve, plan, gather information, and attempt to make decisions...
Daniel B
Jun 26, 2013 Daniel B rated it liked it
This book was recommended to me by someone at work and I'm pretty glad he did. I don't usually read this genre, but the change of pace was refreshing. Especially when the book contains useful info that can be used in the real world. Some readers may think the writer adds to many examples towards the end of the book, but I believe he simply want to tie it all together.
Jul 13, 2008 Srikumar rated it it was amazing
If you think you can be a great benevolent dictator, read this and take a reality check. It will open your eyes to fundamentally flawed habits of thought in most of us that cause us to fail miserably when dealing with problems with a large number of interacting components.
Aug 01, 2012 Christopher rated it it was amazing
This is the second time I read this book. It provides loads of insight into complex problem solving with an easy to read narrative. The colorful examples keep your interest and reinforce the ideas brought forth in the book.
Aug 14, 2010 Hal rated it really liked it
The most interesting & memorable failures come about when a) the root cause(s) are missed and people resort to infighting and blame and b) the failure manifests on several fronts in apparently disconnected ways.
Onaar Rolnexon
Sep 03, 2012 Onaar Rolnexon rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this. The experiments and examples here show how certain cognitive biasses can lead to failure. There are tips on how to improve decision making but no easy lists or maxims.
Jul 06, 2008 Ryan rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. It was interesting and I saw a lot of me in it. I liberally skipped pages in some parts. I still want to know the back story of the cool picture on the front!
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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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