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THE LOGIC OF FAILURE by Dietrich Dörner


Why Things Go Wrong and What We Can Do to Make Them Right

by Dietrich Dörner

Pub Date: July 9th, 1996
ISBN: 0-8050-4160-5
Publisher: Henry Holt

 A challenging, though preliminary, look at the difficulties of decision making, exploring how and why bad decisions are made. From Gîdel's incompleteness theorem to chaos and quantum theory, much of 20th-century thought has focused on underscoring the inextricable complexities of the universe and, thus, the inevitable inadequacies of knowledge. Now Dîrner (Psychology/Univ. of Bamberg). a winner of Germany's highest science prize, the Leibnitz Award, makes his own contribution to the study of complexity by demonstrating just how difficult and problematic decision making can be. Happily, his methodology is both elegant and revealing. He has constructed a series of computer simulations in which the test subject might take on the role of mayor of a small town or district commissioner in charge of an arid region in Africa. Carte blanche is given to the subject struggling to deal with problems arising from such matters as population, resources, unemployment, and crop yields. Some people fail spectacularly, and some do a pretty good job, and the reasons are nearly always the same and surprisingly simple, at least in the abstract: ``What matters is not, I think, development of exotic mental capabilities . . . There is only one thing that does in fact matter, and that is the development of our common sense.'' Dîrner adds that we must also learn to think in terms of time (both forwards and backwards) and the complex interrelationships within systems. Of course, models are always suspect because they tend to be reductive. But if Dîrner is right, the implications here are substantial, for he has created a basic blueprint for testing decision making skills and a broad model for improving them. The corporate types who quest perpetually after the latest management techniques will almost certainly seize upon Dîrner's work. But this is not so much a ``how-to'' guide as a provocative and important road map for years of future scientific experiment and investigation. (88 b&w illustrations)