The Logic of Failure - Book Report


Why do trains crash when the signals are working? Why does a nuclear reactor melt down with all operators alert at their posts? Why do so many of well-planned professional and personal plans frequently do not accomplish desired results?
Dietrich Dorner, considers why we make mistakes which result in terrible outcomes even though we have intelligence, experience, and information about the issues we had made decisions. According to Dorner, it is not because of our negligence or carelessness, but because of what he calls the "logic of failure". By this concept he means that there is certain tendencies in our patterns of thought such as considering one aspect at a time, cause and effect, and linear thinking. In other words, we make decisions and conclusion that would work appropriately in a simple world but which have serious and disastrous consequences for the complex world we live in.
The author gives plenty of examples in his book. He bases a lot of examples on his absorbing computer stimulation invention. According to the findings he made, he exposes us to the flaws we have in our ways of thinking. He uses various examples: Why did the Aswan Dam planners who induced the cheap electricity to Egypt not realize that they would at the same time halt the annual floods that for a millennium had kept the Nile fruitful and fertile? Or why did planners of Third World health programs not realize that increased life expectancy requires increased food? Thereby these health programs ended up contributing starvation. With these plus with all the other examples of the experiments he mentioned in the book, he is aiming to teach us how we are suppose to solve complex problems in the different type of situations. In addition, he introduced as to the basic decision making model that can be used as a framework in the decision making process.
His purpose was to make " The Logic of Failure" a corrective tool and a guide for intelligent planning and decision making. However, I do not agree that the examples presented in the book were good. For instance the author went on and on with the AIDS example which he could have shorten to a couple pages. In addition he could have used more real life examples like Titanic, and the wars that have taken place in the world. There is a certain pattern how decision-makers identify and select problems. I agree with the author that problems that are visible tend to have a higher probability of being selected than ones that are really important. That is because of the fact that they are so much easily to be recognized. Decision-makers want to appear competent and on top of problems. Their self-interest affect problem selection because it is usually in the decision-maker's best interest to address problems of high visibility and high payoffs. This demonstrates an ability to perceive and attack problems.
The invisible obvious is a major factor in why the prediction of future trends is especially difficult. Naturally such predictions rely heavily on knowledge of present conditions. But present conditions are some what invisible because we cannot get all the information needed, and also because we have developed our own interior patterns, principles processes of thinking and perceiving the world around us. These patterns are moderately permanent and difficult to change and they affect the way we react to the environment. Deeply hold ideologies and cultural values, tunnel vision, selective perception, deference to the judgement of others are all enemies in our efforts to see what is really going on.
Technology helps us in countless ways, but it always backfires. As the book reminds us, the field of ecology is full of examples in which successful efforts to intervene in the natural course of events on behalf of some species have produced unexpected damage to that very species, damage that dwarfs the original success. When trying to accomplish something, it is very hard to tell in what remote and complex ways the action we have taken will backfire.
The decision model can be applied into any situation. However, it is important to remember that the model is just a guideline and even though you approach the problem according to the model it does not mean that the decision made will be the right one. I want to emphasize some points