Drift into Failure : From Hunting Broken Components to Understanding Complex Systems, Paperback

Drift into Failure : From Hunting Broken Components to Understanding Complex Systems Paperback

3.5 out of 5 (2 ratings)


What does the collapse of sub-prime lending have in common with a broken jackscrew in an airliner's tailplane? Or the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico with the burn-up of Space Shuttle Columbia?

These were systems that drifted into failure. While pursuing success in a dynamic, complex environment with limited resources and multiple goal conflicts, a succession of small, everyday decisions eventually produced breakdowns on a massive scale. We have trouble grasping the complexity and normality that gives rise to such large events.

We hunt for broken parts, fixable properties, people we can hold accountable.

Our analyses of complex system breakdowns remain depressingly linear, depressingly componential - imprisoned in the space of ideas once defined by Newton and Descartes. The growth of complexity in society has outpaced our understanding of how complex systems work and fail.

Our technologies have gotten ahead of our theories. We are able to build things - deep-sea oil rigs, jackscrews, collateralized debt obligations - whose properties we understand in isolation. But in competitive, regulated societies, their connections proliferate, their interactions and interdependencies multiply, their complexities mushroom. This book explores complexity theory and systems thinking to understand better how complex systems drift into failure.

It studies sensitive dependence on initial conditions, unruly technology, tipping points, diversity - and finds that failure emerges opportunistically, non-randomly, from the very webs of relationships that breed success and that are supposed to protect organizations from disaster.

It develops a vocabulary that allows us to harness complexity and find new ways of managing drift.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 234 pages, Includes 3 b&w illustrations
  • Publisher: Taylor & Francis Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Occupational & industrial psychology
  • ISBN: 9781409422211



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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

Review by

A fascinating exploration of the complexity of modern human societies and how a drift towards catastrophic failure is built into them. It is marred only by the way the author somewhat labours his essential point: that complex systems have emergent properties which mean that explaining accidents by working backwards from the particular part of the system that failed will never provide a full explanation of what went wrong.

Review by

Really interesting ideas in this book, though it was a tad too scholarly for me to fully enjoy. It sure did give me a lot to think about, though.