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Meltdown: What Plane Crashes, Oil Spills, and Dumb Business Decisions Can Teach Us about How to Succeed at Work and at Home

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4.07  ·  Rating details ·  893 ratings  ·  108 reviews
NAMED A BEST BOOK OF 2018 BY THE FINANCIAL TIMES

A groundbreaking take on how complexity causes failure in all kinds of modern systems--from social media to air travel--this practical and entertaining book reveals how we can prevent meltdowns in business and life

"Endlessly fascinating, brimming with insight, and more fun than a book about failure has any right to be, Meltd
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Paperback, 304 pages
Published March 19th 2019 by Penguin Group (first published March 2018)
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Average rating 4.07  · 
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Start your review of Meltdown: What Plane Crashes, Oil Spills, and Dumb Business Decisions Can Teach Us about How to Succeed at Work and at Home
C
I gave this 5 stars because of the shocking insight, research, and ways we're learning more and more on how to avoid "Meltdown."

we rely heavily on computers, but it seems most of catastrophes happen due to human error, like the tool left inside the engine of a plane, scandal at the Oscars, etc. we need more people to speak up if they think they messed up. I enjoyed that part in this book. I commend those individuals. It's a shame that people have died to find out what went wrong and why. Should
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Mehrsa
May 05, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are some interesting insights in this book but most of them are derivative of other people's work--either scholars of complexity theory or just management and diversity gurus. Basically, the idea here is that systems that are complex and tightly coupled will experience meltdowns. But that there are signs that should not be ignored. Fair enough. And how do you deal with it? Basically by listening to diverse voices doing a pre-mortem, getting rid of heirarchies and letting all team members s ...more
Chris
Apr 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Meltdown is an excellent book for anyone curious about making lives, communities, and the world more resilient. The stories are relevant, authentic, and engaging, and lead directly to lessons worth trying out in our own organizations and systems. In world that at times can feel like it is replete with disaster Chris and Andrȧs remind us that we can take small steps in any place to improve the robustness of our systems to stop meltdowns of the large and small.

In my field of global environmental h
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Alex
Chris Clearfield brings clarity to complexity by looking at the little things that make for big problems. He goes through the catastrophes in our everyday systems, breaking down why complex systems are prone to failure, accidents, and intentional wrongdoing.

Grounded in examples most of us would know from the news, we learn about patterns across failure-prone systems (non-linear cause and effect as well as tight "coupling" across the parts), why our solutions to these patterns tend to fail (we un
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RSM
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Was lucky to get this in a giveaway. I had high expectations because of the glowing quotes on the back from authors I like (Dan Pink and Charles Duhigg) and I really liked this book. It is very readable and often entertaining, and it is actually much broader than it seems. It uses a single framework to explain a great range of things, from disasters in your kitchen to meltdowns on Twitter to airplane crashes. Some interesting thoughts on where we're headed as a society and a lot of good tips for ...more
Ola Rabba
Feb 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I got this book pre-release (Amazon Vine) and really enjoyed it. The topic is super-interesting and important. Despite the serious subject matter, this book still manages to be a surprisingly entertaining read. It is a mix of case studies (ranging from very funny to very sad), interesting social science research, and a framework that brings it all together. My favorite parts were the sections about how diversity helps teams avoid failure and how we can use small failures to anticipate big disast ...more
Meaghan Johns
Jun 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
"All too often, when we deal with a complex system, we assume that things are working just fine and discard evidence that conflicts with that assumption."

This is one of those books that is so relevant to my work in project delivery and the world I (we) live in that, even after borrowing this book from the library, I decided to straight up buy it because of the sheer amount of notes I took.

Our world has become increasingly complex, and our systems have become less transparent and more tightly cou
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Fred Hughes
Jul 04, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great insight into complex systems and the simple humans that try to control them.

Communications seems to be the magic solution, as it is with most problems, in an age when texting is the standard mode of communications.

Good read
Dee Eisel
Aug 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

A few years ago when I still had Scribd, I found a book by Charles Perrow called “Normal Accidents.” My Goodreads review of it is here. As it turns out, that wasn’t the kind of book I was looking for. “Meltdown” is exactly what I was looking for. It takes Perrow’s theories and provides a more modern and digestible framework.


Perrow’s thesis is that in systems with sufficient complexity and tight coupling (not a lot of time or room for error), accidents are inevitable. He calls them normal acciden

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Wendy
May 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Wendy by: Goodreads Giveaways
Shelves: non-fiction
“Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It” which I won through Goodreads Giveaways is a compelling look at system failures and the solutions to avoid a meltdown. Broken into two parts the first half of the book gives insight into why systems which today are more capable, complex and less forgiving can be problematic, killing people accidently, bankrupting companies, and even giving rise to the innocent being jailed. As the authors also point out, even a small change to one of t ...more
Daniel
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is about catastrophic events, but taking a totally different approach from the Black Swan.

Tight coupling + complexity = meltdown

Fukushima. Long island, Target in Canada. Enron. Flint water. Washington Metro. Aircraft disasters. Oscar mix up.

You cannot think of all the potential problems because complex systems interact with each other and create unforeseeable problems. Each person in the system can only see a small part of it. However warning signs do appear first.

With the rise of a
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Joao Felipe
Jul 13, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book is brilliant. It starts by describing how our systems work nowadays and how the evolution from systems which were more simple, and had more slack in their structures, can suffer a Meltdown.

One of the reviews I’ve read before reading it, mentioned that the authors quote a lot of research and do very little original work. What I experienced, in fact, made it seem like a compliment, because there is nothing wrong in compiling a ton of research as long as you mention the sources and explai
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Fiona
Apr 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: publisher-gift
A fascinating gloss of how systems break down: its all about complexity and coupling, a simple concept with infinite applications. I really wish this book had been longer, a phrase I don't often utter.

Thank you to Penguin/Random House for the free copy for review. It was delicious.
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Rayfes Mondal
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
We increasingly rely on complex systems that fail in unforeseen ways. This book describes many of them and steps we can take to reduce failure. An enjoyable, informative read.
Peter Immanuel
Jan 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Great book!

Using several fascinating stories, the authors show how a combination of complexity (i.e. when parts of a system interact in non-linear, hidden, and unexpected ways) and tight coupling (i.e. when there is little slack among the parts of a system and the failure of one part easily affects the others) causes meltdowns.

The authors then offer suggestions on how to make meltdowns less likely, while talking about the research on which these suggestions are built. Some of these suggestions i
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Daryl Moad
Mar 18, 2018 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
I have never received this book; when are you planning on sending it?
Matthew Wynd
May 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Overcoming system failure in an increasingly complex world is a daunting topic. This book lays out how every one of us can contribute to building simple and successful systems to stay ahead of complex system meltdown. Favorite topics within this book include Pre-mortems and how Charles Parrow's Technology Classification Matrix can help us.

Don't skip the epilogue. There is an excellent reference to how Yeats' The Second Comming is used inaccurately to describe why world news seems to be getting p
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Ricky Duncan
May 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways
I entered (and won) a giveaway for the book based on the description of the book given. And I was not disappointed, fascinating account of how simple things cause complex systems to fail, sort of a explanation of human hubris, and why we need to think out all possible effects, but can’t as some of them we can’t even conceptualize.
Melissa T
*I won a copy of this via Goodreads Giveaways*

This is an interesting look at different types of meltdowns and failures throughout history. It covers topics ranging from stock market and business failures, to retail and medical failures.

It seems that the main causes of meltdowns are the intricacy of systems and organizations, and the combination of small errors that can add up and lead to big problems.

There are a lot of concrete, well placed examples of these different types of meltdowns. I appre
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Eddie Choo
Apr 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Understanding Complex Systems

A wonderful intellectual successor to Charles Perrow’s Normal Accidents, which forms the intellectual spine of the book. This book doesn’t look at the broader economic and social causes of why these meltdowns along the way, though- but still a sufficient read.
Anna
Feb 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, giveaway
**I received a copy of this book through the Goodreads giveaway program.**
I don't think I'm the intended audience for this book, but I still enjoyed it. Probably someone with a background in engineering or manufacturing would get more out of this book. Really good use of case studies and anecdotes and the book covers a lot of ground in a very accessible way. It was a little dry at times, but again, take my perspective with a grain of salt. To learn more about everything that can go wrong with nu
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Kevin
Jan 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a thought-provoking and highly readable book that was a source of fresh, new ideas for me. I knew some of the stories quite well (VW, Flint, the New York Times serial plagiarist scandal, the Academy Awards debacle etc.) and was familiar with some of the research, but this books offered the excitement of looking at these events through a different lens.

Alex
Jul 21, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: markets
I enjoyed the book - some reviewers say it is heavy on case studies and light on takeaways. I agree, although the case studies are good. Below are my notes of takeaways:

Meltdowns are more often caused by a number of small component failures that interact in unpredictable ways than by a particular component or operator failure. Failures are more likely to happen when systems are both:

· Complex: many components are joined by complex (non-linear) interaction, so that the failure of one affects many
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Mark Mitchell
Sep 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Clearfield's book is a compendium of disaster tales, a collection of ghost stories for the modern age. He tells of train crashes, plane crashes, oil spills, and nuclear meltdowns. In each case, Clearfield shows how "complex, tightly-coupled" systems (defined as those whose inner workings are opaque and where interactions between the parts can cause the failure of the system as a whole) can result in calamity. Clearfield's work references Charles Perrow's research and thinking extensively. Perrow ...more
David
Sep 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after its launch on a chilly January morning in 1986. The story of the accident is now well known. O-rings, intended to seal joints in the solid rocket boosters that helped propel the shuttle into orbit, didn’t work because of the cold. Engineers knew that low temperatures affected O-rings, but after a tense conference call the night before the launch, they decided to proceed anyway. --- In the danger zone, our systems are so complex that it’s hard t ...more
Volodya
Jun 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Gail
Jun 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Let’s say you wanted to create the most boring sounding field possible. You might call it “systems science” and choose topics of study like dams, oil rigs, and water treatment plants. But Chris Clearfield and András Tilcsik will have thwarted your plans, producing as they have a page-turner about the paradox of progress: “as our systems have become more capable, they have also become more complex and less forgiving, creating an environment where small mistakes can turn into massive failures.”

“M
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Paiman Chen
Mar 10, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Learn from small failures to avoid big ones.
Diversity feels strange. It’s inconvenient. But it makes us work harder and ask tougher questions.

Build diverse teams and listen to skeptics.

Training those in power to listen to dissent is crucial, as is encouraging subordinates to speak out.


Diversity moves people out of their comfort zone, thus increasing vigilance and avoiding big mistakes.
Diversity is critical to catching bad ideas before they manifest in bad consequences. Diverse groups push peo
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TheCosyDragon
Oct 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been crossposted from my blog at The Cosy Dragon . Please head there for more in-depth reviews by me, which appear on a timely schedule.

Why do failures happen in huge industrial and nuclear plants? How do we avoid aeroplane crashes with thousands of planes landing in LAX each day? These ideas are extensively explored in this non-fiction novel that provides a base for you to apply these principles to your own business.

I freely admit that business management and so forth is not usu
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Eric Lawton
May 22, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was a little disappointed because I'd read an excerpt in a newspaper - probably the best pages. Still, an important subject.

I know quite a bit about this subject because my profession was complex IT system design, and I found the book was overly simplistic. This is not because some of the tools they suggest, such as for structured decision making on a small scale, are too simple; they're appropriate at the small scales and often things seem almost too obvious that people thing they don't need
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Chris Clearfield is a science geek and a reformed derivatives trader who became more interested in writing about risk than taking it. He's the coauthor of Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It with his friend and longtime collaborator András Tilcsik.

Chris lives in Seattle, Washington with his family. When he's not writing or working on short author biographies, Chris, a c
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