Book Review: Meltdown by Chris Clearfield

Meltdown (Clearfield)Our society increasingly relies on complex, tightly coupled systems that handle our healthcare, finances, travel, and more. While those systems can be more productive and theoretically safer, they have vulnerabilities, including the complexity in itself. Sometimes, the addition of more safety features can actually make something less safe by making it more complex and therefore more likely to allow for a mistake to be made.

Looking at disasters through this framework helps them make a lot more sense. For example, the recent Boeing 737 MAX crashes and the Notre Dame Cathedral fire are examples of failures of complex systems designed to be the safest and most effective in the world. These Titanic-level events seemed impossible; now their fallouts present existential crises to our society.

In Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It, authors Chris Clearfield and András Tilcsik breakdown problems like this and demonstrate the underlying psychology and sociology. They propose research-based solutions that are easily applicable, making this a good resource for anyone who does administrative work or are involved in work in complex systems where lives depend preventing complexity meltdowns (e.g. hospitals).

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