Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It (March, 2018)
Due to their incredible complexity, our modern systems—from healthcare to travel, finance to media—are primed for failure. And things are only getting worse. In his National Business Book Award-winning Meltdown, András TilCsik offers a timely remedy. Not only a convincing diagnosis of why complexity creates failure in systems, it’s a practical guidebook to preventing the next disaster—before it strikes.
“Meltdown is one of the stand-out business books of the decade.”— Stuart Crainer and Des Dearler, Founders, Thinkers50
András Tilcsik is one of the world’s Top 40 Professors Under 40, and one of thirty management thinkers most likely to shape the future of organizations. He is also co-author of Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It —a bold and clear-sighted sourcebook for anyone seeking to grasp how systems are prone to failure, and how we can prevent collapses of all sizes before they occur. An Associate Professor at the Rotman School of Management, Tilcsik developed and teaches the award-winning course “Catastrophic Failure in Organizations” (The United Nations calls it the best course on disaster risk management in a business school.)
In his teaching—and throughout Meltdown—he explains the paradox of progress: that as modern society demands more capable systems, they become more complex by necessity. From nuclear energy to aerospace engineering, Wall Street economics to the politics of social media, we live entangled in staggering complexity—which means that tiny mistakes or simple accidents can lead to devastating catastrophes. Co-written with Chris Clearfield, Meltdown accomplishes three vital things: it explains why complexity leads to failure, reveals the common factors between disasters large and small, and sets down a series of practical strategies that corporations, governments, and individuals can use to keep themselves safe. As a proposal, Meltdown received the McKinsey & Company Bracken Bower Prize for “best business proposal by authors under 35.” Upon publication, it was named a Best Business Book of the Year by the Financial Times, took home the National Business Book Award, and was dubbed “one of the stand-out business book of the decade” by Thinkers50 founders Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove, who awarded the Tilscik and Clearfield with the prestigious Thinkers 50 Strategy Award.
One of Canadian Business’s Change Agents, Tilcsik holds the Canada Research Chair in Strategy, Organizations, and Society. He is also the chief sociologist of the Creative Destruction Lab, one of the world’s fastest-growing startup accelerators. Tilscik has received several awards from the American Sociological Association, and his research has been cited to committees of the U.S. Congress and covered in media outlets like The New York Times, The Economist, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Forbes, The Huffington Post, Slate, and Freakonomics Radio.
Tilscik has spoken at Harvard, Stanford, Yale, MIT, the Wharton School, the World Bank, the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Rotman Graduate Business Council, and many other institutions. As a Fellow of the Michael Lee-Chin Institute for Corporate Citizenship, Tilscik is also studying corporate practices that reduce the risk and impact of environmental disasters. He is a graduate of Harvard University (Ph.D., A.M., and A.B.) and the United World College of the Atlantic in Wales, where he also served as an Auxiliary Coastguard in Her Majesty’s Coastguard Rescue Service.
How many things need to go right for your project to succeed? As soon as that question needs asking, you’ve got a complex system on your hands, says Meltdown co-author András Tilcsik. In this gripping talk drawn from his National Business Book Award-winning title, Tilcsik show that there is more potential for catastrophic failure now as our technology, organizations, and ambitions have grown. Practical and proactive, Tilcsik initiates audiences into the pivotal principles of transparency and simplicity—and how you can endow your professional systems with them. Keeping it simple (but not stupid) means finding ways to make your complex system more legible and accessible. The second principle that you’ll learn about is transparency, which really comes down to human dynamics, and dialogue around errors. It’s up to leaders, managers, and organizers to leave a clear path to open conversation so that the system in question can evolve. You will leave this talk with a set of logical and surmountable principles (none of which will radically affect your budget), pivoting you safely towards success.
Corporate diversity: it’s one of today’s most urgent topics. But how does it actually influence teams and organizations? According to cutting-edge research, diversity is indeed beneficial—but not because it brings more diverse perspectives to the table. Rather, it helps by making things more difficult (in effect, by erecting speed bumps that slow down our decision-making processes). Being in a diverse team feels less comfortable than being in a homogenous team; it threatens to be a source of interpersonal friction. And that makes us more skeptical, critical, and more vigilant, all of which make us more likely to catch errors—and avoid failure.
In this keynote, András Tilcsik brings forward the newest and best research on how diversity can help us—and what techniques leaders can employ to change the makeup of their own organizations. He’ll reveal how most diversity programs prove largely ineffective—and even sometimes counterproductive—despite the vast amounts of money spent on them. He then outlines what does work: how voluntary, rather than mandatory, diversity training is a better idea; how formal, structured mentorship programs for junior employees are so necessary; and why we should track diversity in an appeal to people’s inclination to be fair-minded. To Tilcsik, diversity is vital. But it’s the soft tools that work the best: tools that don’t try to strong-arm managers into giving up control, or enforce a list of dos and don’ts. Instead, to succeed with diversity, we need to engage managers, expose them to a wider variety of people, and appeal to their natural desire to do good.