Deadly Decisions: How False Knowledge Sank the Titanic, Blew Up the Shuttle and Led America into War Hardcover – 1 Oct 2008
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A month before its catastrophic failure, Wall Street analysts rated Enron a 'buy'. In 2001, at the CIA, FBI, and Department of Defense, a squabbling bureaucracy buried warnings of a looming terrorist attack. And Congress and the country were talked into war against a collapsing dictatorship on the basis of detailed and compelling intelligence, which turned out to be false. How could all of the experts be so wrong? In "Deadly Decisions", Christopher Burns, one of America's leading experts on modern information management, searches the biology of the brain, the behaviour of groups, and the structure of organisations for practical answers to the problem of 'virtual truth' - elaborate constructs of internally consistent evidence and assumptions that purport to describe reality, but can often be dead wrong!How can we avoid wishful thinking, information overload, uncertainty absorption, and an unintentional twisting of the facts? Why are start-up groups agile and innovative while large organisations lumber along, bogged down in false knowledge? How can societies rediscover the power of truthful communication?Burns suggests that, as individuals, we must learn to be sceptical of our own sly and beguiling minds.As members of a group, we need to be more wary of the omissions, inventions, and distortions that come all too naturally to all of us. And as consumers of information we have to hold professionals, politicians, and the media more accountable. As the book makes clear, only through a deeper understanding of how individuals, groups, and society process information can we succeed in those extraordinary endeavours that are the promise of the Information Age.
About the Author
Christopher Burns (Ipswich, MA) has been a news executive and an independent consultant to government and the private sector for thirty years, advising clients on emerging information management technologies and the evolution of the information economy. His previous positions include vice president of the Washington Post Company; senior vice president of the Minneapolis Star and Tribune; executive editor of UPI; and president of Christopher Burns, Inc.
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It happens that, when I started reading "Deadly Decisions", I had just finished reading "With Wings Like Eagles" by Korda. This is a new book about the famous Battle of Britain. In Korda's book he portrays Air Marshall Dowding as someone who almost singlehandedly organized and maintained the air defence of the English Coast at a time when the threat of a cross-channel invasion by the Germans was a very real threat. Dowding's ideas were opposed by his staff, his pilots, and by his government, but in the end he was vindicated. Yet in "Deadly Decisions" Brand provides several examples of leaders who ignored advice with disatrous consequences. Of course, Brand effectively argues that leaders can and do filter and even distort advice. Advisors and staff to leaders must also realize that there are times when they must be prepared to sacrifice personal careers in the interest of avoiding potential disasters. These are lessons that we need to learn and internalize thoroughly.
I found the book very sobering and very worthwhile.