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Hardcover | Out of Print | 352 pp. | 6 x 9 in | February 1998 | ISBN: 9780262112277
Paperback | Out of Print | 352 pp. | 6 x 9 in | February 1999 | ISBN: 9780262611466
eBook | $35.95 Trade | February 1999 | ISBN: 9780262329354
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Instructor Resources

Sources of Power

How People Make Decisions


Anyone who watches the television news has seen images of firefighters rescuing people from burning buildings and paramedics treating bombing victims. How do these individuals make the split-second decisions that save lives? Most studies of decision making, based on artificial tasks assigned in laboratory settings, view people as biased and unskilled. Gary Klein is one of the developers of the naturalistic decision making approach, which views people as inherently skilled and experienced. It documents human strengths and capabilities that so far have been downplayed or ignored.

Since 1985, Klein has conducted fieldwork to find out how people tackle challenges in difficult, nonroutine situations. Sources of Power is based on observations of humans acting under such real-life constraints as time pressure, high stakes, personal responsibility, and shifting conditions. The professionals studied include firefighters, critical care nurses, pilots, nuclear power plant operators, battle planners, and chess masters. Each chapter builds on key incidents and examples to make the description of the methodology and phenomena more vivid. In addition to providing information that can be used by professionals in management, psychology, engineering, and other fields, the book presents an overview of the research approach of naturalistic decision making and expands our knowledge of the strengths people bring to difficult tasks.

About the Author

Gary Klein is Senior Scientist at MacroCognition LLC. He is the author of The Power of Intuition, Seeing What Others Don’t, Working Minds: A Practitioner’s Guide to Cognitive Task Analysis (with Beth Crandall and Robert R. Hoffman), and Streetlights and Shadows: Searching for the Keys to Adaptive Decision Making, the last two published by the MIT Press.


“Most studies of decision-making treat humans like rats in a laboratory. But Dr. Klein, a cognitive psychologist, spent a decade watching fire commanders, fighter pilots, paramedics, and others making split-second decisions on the job, and this book is a clear and engaging account of his findings.”—The Wall Street Journal


Sources of Power is without a doubt one of the finest works on decision making. A must for anyone responsible for training command and control personnel.”
Hugh E. Wood, Program Chair, Emergency Incident Policy and Analysis, National Fire Academy
“Underscoring his points by citing a wide variety of fascinating incidents uncovered during his research, Gary Klein develops an elaborate and plausible model of the decision making of experienced experts. In the process, he makes a convincing case for the study of decision making in naturalistic settings. This study demonstrates the power of recognition-primed action and provides a convincing critique of the real-world validity of the normative decision making produced in laboratory settings.”
Hubert L. Dreyfus, Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, University of California, Berkeley and Stuart E. Dreyfus, Professor of Engineering Science, Emeritus, University of California
“Demonstrates the necessity of looking beyond economic and statistical models of decision making for an understanding of real-life decisions, particularly job-related decisions and decisions made in emergencies. The examples are excellent, deriving as they do from the authors extensive research with firefighters and the military.”
Lee Roy Beach, Ph.D., McClelland Professor of Management and Policy and Professor of Psychology, College of Business and Public Administration, University of Arizona
“After reading Sources of Power by Gary Klein I have a much better understanding of why and how experienced fire fighters make critical life and death decisions on the fire ground. I also have a better understanding of why new officers may have some problems with decision making. With 26 years as a Los Angeles County Fire Fighter, I have held every rank in the Operations Bureau and have commanded many types of incidents including the 1992 civil disturbance, 1993 firestorms, and the 1994 earthquake. This book has given me new insight on what level of performance I should expect from new company officers and how to improve their performance.”
Larry C. Miller, Operations Chief Deputy, Los Angeles County Fire Department