CM 119: Chris Clearfield on Preventing Meltdowns
Published December 1, 2018
48 min
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    Disastrous events take place all the time, but could many be prevented? For example, could discount retailer, Target, have spared thousands of people their jobs rather than close 58 of its Canadian stores? Could the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe have been avoided?
    Chris Clearfield, co-author with Andras Tilcsik of the book, Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It, sees a paradox at work in these events, that is, increasingly complex systems resulting in greater vulnerability. As he walks us through similar meltdowns that have taken place across organizations like, Enron and Three Mile Island, as well as events like the Oscars, he shares steps we can take to anticipate, and even avoid, these disasters.
    A former derivatives trader, Chris worked in New York, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. He’s written about catastrophic failure, technology, and finance for The Guardian, Forbes, and the Harvard Kennedy School Review.
    In this interview Chris answers questions like:

    * Why do meltdowns increase as systems grow more complicated?
    * What advantages do diverse groups have when it comes to avoiding failures?
    * What are the two biggest factors that contribute to most large-scale disasters?
    * How does “tight coupling” contribute to meltdowns?
    * What led to Starbuck’s infamous social media meltdown?
    * How did snafus in UK post offices result in post masters spending time in jail?
    * How has the Internet of things (IoT) increased the chance of meltdowns?
    * In what ways have companies like Enron used complexity to their advantage?
    * Why did Airbus 330 pilots trade sleek design for the more workmanlike Boeing 737?
    * How can premortems help us anticipate and avoid failures in our work?
    * What does the Flint water disaster have to teach us about our cognitive biases?
    * Why is it so important for us to pay attention to small problems as they arise?
    * Which is more important for preventing meltdowns, people who speak up or leaders who listen?
    * How can families take advantage of agile work practices to up their game?
    * What do flight crews have to teach us about workplace communication?

    Links to Topics Mentioned in the Podcast
    Charles Perrow
    Three Mile Island accident
    Whiplash by Joi Ito and interview link on Curious Minds
    SPIES decision-making method
    Superforcasting by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner
    Performing a Project Premortem by Gary Klein
    Daniel Kahneman
    Flint Water Crisis
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