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on 19 September 2003
A rather grandiose title, but I think the subtitle is more apt for what this book explains. This book looks at a wide variety of case studies from how tank commanders operate in combat situations to how expert fire fighters are effective. The book explores how experts learn and adapt to situations quicker than novices, the effect of pressure on people’s ability to make decisions and how they go about making those decisions, the best methods for learning and conveying knowledge and minimum information people need to effectively carry out orders.
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on 25 January 1999
Gary Klein is something of a guru in the decision making research field but with this book, he makes his ideas available to a broader audience. My research is in the emergency decisions Fire Officers have to make and I have found operational command trainers find this book more useful than any other available at the moment. At the same time the interested observer will find the examples fascinating.
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Gary Klein is a cognitive psychologist who has "gone native," shifting his focus from the laboratory to the messy world of firefighters, tank commanders, and other naturalistic decision makers. Their work environments are defined by "...time pressure, high stakes, experienced decision makers, inadequate information, ill-defined goals, poorly defined procedures, cue learning, context, dynamic conditions, and team coordination." Instead of cataloging their errors, Klein has identified the mental capabilities that help them succeed. His book presents these "sources of power" for our consideration.

These sources of power include:

- Intuition depends on the use of experience to recognize key patterns.
- Mental simulation is the ability to imagine people and objects through transformations.
- Spotting leverage points means spotting small changes that can make a big difference.
- Experience can be used to focus attention on key features that novices don't notice.
- Stories bring natural order to unstructured situations and emphasize what is important.
- Metaphors apply familiar experiences to new situations to suggest solutions.
- Communicating intentions in a team helps members "read each other's minds."
- Effective teams evolve a "team mind" with shared knowledge, goals, and identity.
- Rational analysis plays an important role, but can be over applied.

The author spends some time with other theories of decision making, emphasizing both their strengths and the sometimes faulty assumptions they incorporate. He makes good points about the inadequacy of decision bias theories to explain successful, real-world decision processes. Klein describes how artificial intelligence and other computational theories reduce decision making to a search through a well-defined set of alternatives. Most decisions, he argues, are not so well structured.

Klein likes to stay close to his data. The book reflects this in the space given to detailed decision making examples he has used to develop and test his theories. In addition to a traditional Table of Contents and lists of Tables and Figures, there is also a list of fifty-two Examples, allowing readers quick access to these cases. Klein also links his theories back to decision making contexts he expects readers to encounter. Each chapter ends with an Applications section that identifies practical implications for decisions out there in the world.

This is a thought-provoking book, grounded in both applied research and practical experience. It is profitable reading for anyone who strives to make better decisions.
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on 9 March 1999
Although I am not a professional in this area, I have had many experiences that required me to learn how people make decisions. This book goes a long way toward explaining these processes and provides plenty of examples to learn from. Not only does Gary Klein present his results, he covers how the data were obtained, its analysis, his assumptions, and how the conclusions were reached. It provides great insight into one's own thinking and decision making process. I was truly amazed at how readable this book was and how thoroughly real life examples were analyzed. I would recommend it to anyone in any field.
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on 5 January 2013
This book is based on close study of real decision making, such as by firefighters, medical staffs, and military commanders. Thanks to its naturalistic-anthropological approach, Klein's work is much more significant than most of the studies of experimental decision psychology in quasi-laboratory conditions, for instance on rather simple choices facing probabilistic uncertainty -- which reveal heuristics and biases that are interesting, but of narrow significance.
Instead of the conclusions on human "irrationality" arrived at by simplistic experiments, this book demonstrates that experience-based expertize achieves high quality decision skills, partly on tacit levels. These include, for instance, recognition-primed decision making, mental simulation, and making sense of complex situations by building fitting "stories, metaphors and analogues, though a number of error propensities must be guarded against.
The findings must in part be taken with caution, as they are based on oral reporting by actors on what they are thinking, which is not very reliable as recognized by the author (e.g. p. 291). But, all in all, this is a very important book providing findings and models of profound importance for all dealing with series of choices enabling development of expertize.
However, from my concerns with high-level policy making and criticl political judgment the book is of little help, as recognized by the author (e.g. p. 282, though not adequately discussed. Thus, to take the Cuban Missile Crisis, public health policies, choices on energy sources, or the Arab-Israeli conflict, with their singular features and radical uncertainties, little in the book is relevant. Even less so is it applicable to fully novel issues, such as coping with the unprecedented opportunities and dangers provided by science and technology, such as human enhancement, mass-killing materials, and obsolescence of standard employment patterns. All these require new decision making paradigms, based on some combination between in-depth study of historic future-weaving choices, more adequate understanding of human minds, and novel conceptions of "high-quality judgment" viewed inter alia as fuzzy gambling for high stakes. This is beyond the book.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
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on 29 April 2016
This is a fascinating and readable insight into how our brains solve problems and make decisions, individually or in teams. Focusing on experienced professionals it draws on decades of introspective field studies of naturalistic decision making environments encountered by firefighters, nurses, pilots, tank commanders, designers, cooks, chess players, and others, confronted with various levels of quality of information to help them. Plenty of examples serve to illustrate the extent to which recognition and intuition, both stemming from experience, is key. Sometimes people get things dreadfully wrong and a detailed example is provided of a step-by-step analysis of what happened during the 1988 shooting down of an Iranian civilian airliner by the USS Vincennes. Mental simulation is important, and human limitations as well as the use of techniques such as snap-back and pre-mortem strategies to look for flaws are discussed. Knowledge engineering is analogous to petroleum discovery, extraction and exploitation. Intent statements have been proven key towards ensuring correct interpretation of a mission order. The use of stories, metaphors and analogues help to make sense and disseminate, assist reasoning and prediction. It may take ten years to make an expert, and what they bring to the table is the superior ability to detect and assimilate a problem and resolve it or predict outcomes, read minds, and to perceive so-called leverage points; those clever ideas that help accelerate identifying and solving a problem. The book is certainly a thought provoker. It stresses the importance of experience. But some might say that over-reliance on expertise can sometimes inhibit necessary risk-taking, in innovation for example, where there is a need to escape from blinkering and me-too solutions (too many problems foreseen by someone with experience, too much hesitation in cases where a bad decision may be better than no decision at all). In manufacturing, for example, the convenience created by the presence of expertise can slow down the drive to stabilise processes, to reduce variability, simplify and improve feedback and make those processes more user friendly to lesser mortals and thereby more generally exploitable. Again in manufacturing, to the other extreme expertise can foster overconfidence in the theoretically possible succeeding in a challenged environment; sometimes, those experts who have gained good ‘firefighting’ abilities to rapidly solve crises may have too often compromised their standing by bending the rules and putting other factors at risk (safety, final product performance, conformity with specifications in manufacturing, etc.). The irreplaceable expert represents a huge challenge to knowledge capitalisation; avoiding a situation being crippled when they are no longer available. It raises the vital issue of the required critical mass of an organisation necessary to ensure continuity. In any case, this will be a rewarding book for anyone who has to deal with crises and work with expert and non-expert teams, take initiatives and make decisions, particularly under pressure. It is certainly a rewarding read.
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on 20 June 1998
If you have worked in the decision support arena for as many years as I have, it is immensely useful to see the traditional, deliberate, compare-all-options approach of decision making contrasted with the process that experienced decision makers seem to follow. Klein provides numerous examples of this in his book.
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on 15 March 2011
A must read for managers and people that want to understand how decisions are taken under pressure.
This book deals with real decision making drawing examples from firefighters, chessmasters, soldiers, etc. It shows how decisions are taken under pressure and highlights the typical tools to decide like mental simulation and others.
The author uses a very scientific approach to explain his framework.
The beginning of the book is a bit boring, but the book is very solid and very well structured. I appreciate in particular the mix of theory and very concrete and simple examples that makes this book very practical.
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on 20 September 2016
Already a classic in the field of decision-making, the book written by Gary Klein provides a lucid and critical review of the topic under study. The author is to be congratulated for providing both breadth and depth across this rapidly expanding and complex discipline, drawing the reader into a more questioning and critical approach to the subject matter. Thoroughly recommended textbook.
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on 17 August 2013
A very good book detailing how various people make decisions. I bought this gift for my dad who owns a small business. He really likes it and uses it as a guidebook on how to make future business decisions.

I am no business guy but I read a few chapters of it and it is well written and has great insight. Worth reading it.
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