Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It
We’re at a breaking point—today’s systems are so complex that major crises are not only imminent, but more common than ever. And that goes for every industry, regardless of size or scope. Enter Chris Clearfield. In the National Business Book Award-winning Meltdown, he offers a groundbreaking investigation into how complexity causes failure in systems—and how we can prevent meltdowns, in both business and life.
“As technology advances, it brings an explosion of complexity and interdependence that can threaten our most critical systems and organizations in unforeseen ways. Meltdown is essential reading for anyone who seeks to understand these dangers and what can be done to address them.”— Martin Ford, Author of Rise of the Robots
Chris Clearfield is co-author of Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It—a frank, convincing guidebook to understanding how modern systems are vulnerable to collapse, and how we can learn to avoid disasters before they happen. The book explains the central paradox of progress: that as our systems become more capable, they also become increasingly complex—and much less forgiving. Today, as actors within a web of dizzyingly complex networks—healthcare to travel, high finance to geopolitics, social media to our personal, domestic troubles—we are more likely to make errors. But these errors can, and will, lead to tremendous disasters, from bankruptcy and economic collapse to loss of life. Meltdown, written with András Tilcsik, shows us why our systems fail, explains the shared DNA connecting them all, and with great clarity, outlines solutions we can use to prevent failures from occurring. Meltdown won the McKinsey Bracken Bower Prize for best business proposal by an author or authors under 35, and after publication, was named a Best Book of the Year by the Financial Times. Called one “one of the stand-out business books of the decade” by Thinkers50 founders Stuart Crainer and Des Dearlove—who awarded Clearfield and Tilscik the prestigious Thinkers50 Strategy Award—Meltdown also took home the National Business Book Award.
Clearfield began his career as a derivatives trader at Jane Street, a New York-based quantitative trading firm, where he managed the risks that arise when people try to use extremely fast computers to make money. During the 2007–2008 financial crisis, he watched from his trading desk as Lehman Brothers collapsed and stock markets around the world unraveled. At the same time, he began to train as a pilot—and developed a very personal interest in avoiding catastrophic mistakes. He is the founder of System Logic, a research and consulting firm that helps organizations manage the risk of catastrophic failure. He also worked in Tokyo and Hong Kong, where he developed an appreciation for cultural influences on decision making. He has written about catastrophic failure, technology, and finance for The Guardian, Forbes, Project Syndicate, the Harvard Kennedy School Review, the popular science magazine Nautilus, the Harvard Business Review blog, and in a memo to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Clearfield is a licensed commercial pilot and a graduate of Harvard University, where he studied physics and biology. Before that, he spent two years at the North Carolina School of Science and Math, where he and two classmates, working with their physics teacher, discovered a long-searched-for pulsar in the remnants of an exploded star.
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 Chris Clearfield. In this gripping talk drawn from his National Business Book Award-winning title, Clearfield shows that as our technology, organizations, and ambitions have grown, there is more potential for catastrophic failure. Practical and proactive, Clearfield 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. Keeping it transparent is up to leaders, managers, and organizers: to leave a clear path to open conversation, and highlight future failures before they arise. You will leave this talk with a set of logical and surmountable principles, pivoting you safely towards success.