Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions

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9780262611466: Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions

Anyone who watches the television news has seen images of firefighters rescuing people from burning buildings and paramedics treating bombing victims. How do these individuals make the split-second decisions that save lives? Most studies of decision making, based on artificial tasks assigned in laboratory settings, view people as biased and unskilled. Gary Klein is one of the developers of the naturalistic decision making approach, which views people as inherently skilled and experienced. It documents human strengths and capabilities that so far have been downplayed or ignored.

Since 1985, Klein has conducted fieldwork to find out how people tackle challenges in difficult, nonroutine situations. Sources of Power is based on observations of humans acting under such real-life constraints as time pressure, high stakes, personal responsibility, and shifting conditions. The professionals studied include firefighters, critical care nurses, pilots, nuclear power plant operators, battle planners, and chess masters. Each chapter builds on key incidents and examples to make the description of the methodology and phenomena more vivid. In addition to providing information that can be used by professionals in management, psychology, engineering, and other fields, the book presents an overview of the research approach of naturalistic decision making and expands our knowledge of the strengths people bring to difficult tasks.

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Review:

Gary Klein studies decision-making in the field, tagging along with firefighters, standing by in intensive-care units, and watching chess masters play lightning-fast "blitz" games to learn how people make choices with time constraints, limited information, and changing goals. From this research, he and his associates have developed a theory of "naturalistic decision-making."

Sources of Power essentially lends the validity of scientific research to techniques that many of us use every day. There's intuition, which is based not on instantaneous insight but on the rapid (perhaps even subconscious) interpretation of perceptual cues. There's mental simulation, a finely honed method of visualization. There's storytelling and metaphor, which enable decision-makers to devise meaningful frameworks and compare their present situations to previous events. Nobody is born with an inherent mastery of these and other techniques, Klein tells us, but we are all born with the capability to develop, through experience, the skill sets experts call upon to make good decisions.

About the Author:

Gary Klein is Senior Scientist at MacroCognition LLC. He is the author of The Power of Intuition, Seeing What Others Don't, Working Minds: A Practitioner's Guide to Cognitive Task Analysis (with Beth Crandall and Robert R. Hoffman), and Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making, the last two published by the MIT Press.

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