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Town Hall Seattle: Science Series

Town Hall’s Science series is dedicated to understanding the world around us. Whether we’re hearing from a legendary physicist or a UW graduate student, the Science series explores math, biology, chemistry, the environment, and so much more.

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Apr 16, 2018

A crash on the Washington, D.C. metro system. An accidental overdose in a state-of-the-art hospital. An overcooked holiday meal. At first glance, these disasters seem to have little in common. But surprising new research shows that all these events—and the myriad failures that dominate headlines every day—share similar causes. With insight from their book Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It, Chris Clearfield and András Tilcsik joined us for an enlightening discussion of how the increasing complexity of our systems creates conditions ripe for failure, and why our brains and teams can’t keep up. They weaved together diverse perspectives on complexity and failure and merged cutting-edge social science with riveting stories that took us from the frontlines of the Volkswagen scandal to backstage at the Oscars, and from deep beneath the Gulf of Mexico to the top of Mount Everest.

Clearfield and Tilcsik highlighted the paradox of progress: though modern systems have given us new capabilities, they’ve become vulnerable to meltdowns, corruption, and misconduct. They took Town Hall’s stage for a masterclass on surmounting these system failures and urged us to understand them so we can design better systems, make our teams more productive, and transform how we make decisions at work and at home. Join Clearfield and Tilcsik to learn why ugly designs make us safer, how a five-minute exercise can prevent billion-dollar catastrophes, why teams with fewer experts are better at managing risk, and why diversity is one of our best safeguards against failure.

Chris Clearfield is a former derivatives trader who worked in New York, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. He is a licensed commercial pilot and a graduate of Harvard University, where he studied physics and biology. Chris has written about complexity and failure for The Guardian, Forbes, and the Harvard Kennedy School Review.

András Tilcsik holds the Canada Research Chair in Strategy, Organizations, and Society at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. He has been recognized as one of the world’s top forty business professors under forty and as one of thirty management thinkers most likely to shape the future of organizations. The United Nations named his course on organizational failure as the best course on disaster risk management in a business school.

Recorded live at Rainier Arts Center by Town Hall Seattle on Wednesday, April 4, 2018.