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Charles Perrow

American sociologist

Charles B. Perrow (born February 9, 1925) is an American Emeritus Professor of sociology at Yale University and visiting professor at Stanford University. He is the author of several books and many articles on organizations, and is primarily concerned with the impact of large organizations on society.

Perrow graduated in 1960 at the University of California, Berkeley, supervised by Philip Selznick, with the unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, entitled "Authority, Goals, and Prestige in a General Hospital."

Perrow's research interests broadened over the years. Nowadays they include "the development of bureaucracy in the 19th Century; the radical movements of the 1960s; Marxian theories of industrialization and of contemporary crises; accidents in such high risk systems as nuclear plants, air transport, DNA research and chemical plants; protecting the nation’s critical infrastructure; the prospects for democratic work organizations; and the origins of U.S. capitalism (source: yale.edu)."

QuotesEdit

1960sEdit

 
The power structure will generally dictate the operative goals of the organization.
- Charles Perrow (1963)
 
In a modern society, where large organizations have acquired unprecedented importance, social scientists have increasingly sought to understand the nature of organizational goals - what they are, what shapes or determines them, what their impact is upon the environment, and how they change.
- Charles Perrow (1968)
  • The power structure will generally dictate the operative goals of the organization.
    • Charles Perrow (1963). "Goals and Power Structures: A Historical Case Study." In: E. Friedson, (Ed.), The Hospital in Modern Society. New York: The Free Press, p. 114
  • Multiple leadership, as a stable system of goal determination and policy setting, is most likely to be found in organizations where there are multiple goals and where these goals lack precise criteria of achievement and allow considerable tolerances with regard to achievement. Organizations with a single goal [i.e., proprietary hospitals] or a clear hierarchy of goals provide little basis for multiple leadership. Multiple leadership arises because important group interests diverge, and each group has the power to protect its interests.
    • Charles Perrow (1963). "Goals and Power Structures: A Historical Case Study." In: E. Friedson, (Ed.), The Hospital in Modern Society. New York: The Free Press, p. 132
  • For many purposes of organizational analysis technology might not be an independent variable but a dependent one.
    • Charles Perrow (1967), in: Industrial Relations Research Association, Proceedings of the ... Annual Winter Meeting, Vol. 19 (1967), p. 163
  • In a modern society, where large organizations have acquired unprecedented importance, social scientists have increasingly sought to understand the nature of organizational goals - what they are, what shapes or determines them, what their impact is upon the environment, and how they change.
    • Perrow (1968), "Organizational goals," in: International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. New York: The Macmillan Co. p. 305

Authority, Goals and Prestige in a General Hospital, 1960Edit

Charles Perrow. (1960/1961). Authority, Goals and Prestige in a General Hospital. PhD. Thesis, University of California (As cited in: Owen A. Jones. The Sources of Goal Incongruence in a Public Service Network. 2013).

  • Product of complex interactions within and between the organization’s social structure, leadership groups and environment. ... They are never static but subject to continual pressure and changes over time.
    • p. 2
  • Covers the history and tradition, the precedents and established commitments involved in all past action. These limit, though not determine, the present actions that any one group may take. If any single thing deserved the designation “the institution” or “the hospital” it would be this.”
    • p. 15
  • Some of these by-products [of official goals] may become so important to the participants who make up the institution as to constitute unofficial goals. “I would not be interested in this hospital unless it...” did something or other. “The trouble with this place is everyone is so concerned with” this or that pursuit. Where these blanks are not filled in with good patient care, teaching and research we have unofficial goals of some group or individual, and thus we have uses to which the institution is put other than the avowed ones.
    • p. 15. (Emphasis in the original by Jones (2013)).
  • What do individuals or groups of similarly hope to gain from participation in the affairs of the organization? Or, to use an awkward phrase we shall reiterate frequently, what are the uses to which they put the organisation?
    • p. 16
  • Unambiguous pursuit of official goals is not likely to be common.
    • p. 21
  • Where and how will official goals be subverted?
    • p. 23

"The analysis of goals in complex organizations", 1961Edit

Charles Perrow, "The analysis of goals in complex organizations." American sociological review (1961): 854-866.

  • Most studies of the internal operation of complex organizations, if they mention goals at all, have taken official statements of goals at face value. This may be justified if only a limited problem is being investigated, but even then it contributes to the view that goals are not problematical. In this view, goals have no effect upon activities other than in the grossest terms; or it can be taken for granted that the only problem is to adjust means to given and stable ends. This reflects a distinctive "model" of organizational behavior, which Gouldner has characterized as the rational model. Its proponents see the managerial elite as using rational and logical means to pursue clear and discrete ends set forth in official statements of goals, while the worker is seen as governed by non-rationalistic, traditionalistic orientations.
    • p. 854.
  • Official goals are the general purposes of the organization as put forth in the charter, annual reports, public statements... Official goals are purposely vague and general and do not indicate two major factors which influence organizational behavior: the host of decisions that must be made among alternative ways of achieving official goals, and the priority of multiple goals and the many unofficial goals pursued by groups within the organization.
    • p. 855
  • Operative goals designate the ends sought through the actual operating policies of the organization; they tell us what the organization actually is trying to do, regardless of what the official goals say are the aims.
    • p. 855
  • The dominant group, reflecting the imperatives of the particular task that is most critical (to the organization), their own background characteristics (distinctive perspectives based on their training, career lines, and areas of competence) and the unofficial uses to which they put the organization for their own ends.
    • p. 856-7
  • The operative goals will be shaped by the dominant group, reflecting the imperatives of the particular task area that is most critical, their own background characteristics (distinctive perspectives based upon their training, career lines, and areas of competence) and the unofficial uses to which they put the organization for their own needs.
    • p. 857

"Hospitals: technology, structure and goals", 1965Edit

Charles Perrow, "Hospitals: technology, structure and goals," in: J.G. March: Handbook of Organization, Rand McNally, Chicago, 1965,

  • Organisations are viewed as systems which utilise energy in a patterned, directed effort to alter the condition of basic materials in a predetermined manner.
    • p. 913
  • From one point of view, structure is a part of technology; for example the spread of the bureaucratic form of organization might be said to be the most profound technological innovation in the last 3 or 4 centuries.
    • p. 914
  • Technology is a technique or complex of techniques employed to alter “materials” (human or nonhuman, mental or physical) in an anticipated manner.
    • p. 915
  • Two aspects of this work process are of critical importance.
  1. the number of "exceptional cases" encountered in the work, or the degree to which these do not allow the creation of routinised work solutions. Such "exceptions" may be due to the nature of the raw material itself -- the objective degree of variation in it; but more frequently it is due to tile nature of the concepts and values applied to the "measurement" of that variation. As to organisations dealing with human beings - like schools - the extent to which individual pupils are treated as fitting within a small set of educable categories, or considered as unique individual personalities, is more a function of educational philosophy or ideology than any "objective" variation involved. At one extreme there are schools, for instance, where classifying their "raw material" into a small number of types, each of which is "schooled" differently, is a totally unproblematic process. The validity of the procedure is completely taken for granted. But at the other extreme are a small number of schools where the unique personality of each child is paid attention to, and such ways of "typing" pupils and assigning such pupil types to selected curricula are rejected as almost immoral.
  2. The nature of the "search process" which is undertaken by the individual "worker" in deciding what process is applied to what type of material. (a) At one extreme such work process decisions are not left to the individual worker, the process being decided upon centrally and its application has become highly routinised. At this extreme the "search process" is conducted on a logical analytical basis, using "well understood" and widely accepted models of analysis agreed within the organisation. Here an unquestioned routinisation of the schooling process often occurs. (b) But at the other extreme, where each individual pupil is treated as a "special case", tile "search process" is one which draws on the residue of unanalysed experience, intuition or professional competence of workers (teachers), and decisions are negotiated at an interpersonal pupil-teacher level.
  • p. 916; As cited in: Damian Hannan, Maura Boyle. Schooling decisions: the origins and consequences of selection and streaming in Irish post-primary schools. Economic and Social Research Institute, 1987. p. 9-10

Organization for treatment, 1966Edit

David Street, ‎Robert D. Vinter, Charles Perrow (1966), Organization for treatment: a comparative study of institutions for delinquents. New York: Free Press.

  • In research terms, the issue is to examine and explain the variations within and among residential institutions.
    • p. vii
  • All complex organizations use people to pursue their tasks, but people-changing organizations work not only with or through people but also on them. People constitute the raison d'etre of these organizations, and, and, as our label suggests, the desired product is a new or altered person. People-changing organizations can be contrasted with organizations that produce, distribute, or service inanimate objects or symbols. The latter may have important consequences for their members' statuses, role-orientations, identities, and personalities, but these alterations are usually incidental, personal, or instrumental. In people-changing organizations the alterations re the primary end. Conceived in this way, the term "people-changing" encompasses a broad variety of organizations, ranging from the monastery (which cleanses the soul while teaching the outward signs of grace) to Menninger's (which restructures the personality), and even to the House of Venus (which reshapes buttocks and identity simultaneously).
    • p. 3
  • Executives were closely observed at work at their desks, at staff meetings, while talking with inmates or moving about the grounds and so on, and again in the feedback sessions when we gave them findings.
    • p. 48
  • [People-processing institutions are] a type of social institution in which human beings constitute both the raw materials and the products of organizational work. Although all social institutions are involved in some degree in people-processing activities, the term is properly restricted to those whose primary goal is the shaping, reshaping, removing, overhauling, retooling, reassembling, and recording the physical, psychological, social, legal, or moral aspects of human objects.
    • p. 163; as cited in: David Shichor (2005), The Meaning and Nature of Punishment. p. 107
  • Inspection of the questionnaires also indicated that because staff members in the more custodial institutions were more willing to use negative sanctions they probably were confronted with less disruptive behavior, since the inmates recognized the costs of acting as they felt.
    • p. 170-171
  • Frequent scheduling of mass activities in the company of other inmates, group punishment, and administering physical punishment before groups of inmates enhance the probability that inmates identify strongly with one another against staff. When, in addition, staff maintain domineering authority relationships and considerable social dishance, inmates further perceive themselves as members of a group opposed to staff, and divergent interests between these groups are more fully recognized
    • p. 225

"A Framework for the Comparative Analysis of Organizations", 1967Edit

Charles Perrow, "A Framework for the Comparative Analysis of Organizations," American Sociological Review, 32 (1967): 194-208.

  • Organizations are seen primarily as systems for getting work done, for applying techniques to the problem of altering raw materials - whether the materials be people, symbols or things.
    • p. 195
  • By technology is meant the actions that an individual performs upon an object, with or without the aid of tools or mechanical devices, in order to make some change in that object. The object, or 'raw material', may be a living being, human or otherwise, a symbol, or an Inanimate object. People are raw materials in people-changing or people-processing organizations; symbols are materials in banks, advertising agencies, and some research organizations; the interactions of people are raw materials to be manipulated by administrators in organizations; boards of directors, committees, and councils are usually Involved with the changing or processing of symbols and human interactions, and so on.
    • p. 195
  • Techniques are performed upon raw materials. The state of art of analyzing the characteristics of the raw materials is likely to determine what kind of technology will be used. (Tools are also necessary, of course, but by and large, the construction of tools is a simpler problem than the analysis of the nature of the material and generally follows the analysis.) To understand the nature of the material means to be able to control it better and achieve predictability and efficiency in transformation. We are not referring here to the 'essence of the material, only the way the organization perceives it to be ... The other relevant characteristic of the raw material, besides the understandability of Its nature, is Its stability and variability; that is, whether the material can be treated in a standardized fashion or whether continual adjustment to it is necessary. Organizations uniformly seek to standardize their raw material In order to minimize exceptional situations. This is the point of de-individualizing processes found in military academies, monasteries and prisons, and the superiority of the synthetic shoe material Corfam over leather.
    • p. 195
  • To call for decentralization, representative bureaucracy, collegial authority, or employee-centered, innovative or organic organizations - to mention only a few of the highly normative prescriptions that are being offered by social scientists today - is to call for a type of structure that can be realized only with a certain type of technology, unless we are willing to pay a high cost in terms of output. Given a routine technology, the much maligned Weberian bureaucracy probably constitutes the socially optimum form of organizational structure.
    • p. 204

1970sEdit

  • The less the expertise, the more direct the surveillance, and the more obtrusive the controls. The more the expertise, the more unobtrusive the controls. The best situation of all, though they do not come cheap, is to hire professionals, for someone else has socialized them and even unobtrusive controls are hardly needed. The professional, the prima donna of organizational theory, is really the ultimate eunuch - capable of doing everything well in that harem except that which he should not do, and in this case that is to mess around with the goals of the organization, or the assumptions that determine to what ends he will use his professional skills.
    • Charles Perrow, "Is business really changing?." Organizational Dynamics 3.1 (1974): 31-44.

Organizational Analysis: A Sociological View, 1970Edit

Charles Perrow (1970), Organizational Analysis: A Sociological View. Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1970; 2nd ed. Tavistock Press, July 1971.

  • It is surprising how much discipline is imposed upon theory by requiring that it ‘make a difference’ and provide guidance or useful illumination. I learned long ago from students in professional schools that questions of ‘so what’ or ‘what relevance does this have’ do not signify impatience with theory per se, much less anti-intellectualism, but only impatience with the obvious, general, remote, and vague statements that often parade as social science theory. One test of good theory is that it have practical implications.
    • p. vii
  • Chapter Five deals with the messiest problem of all— but the one to which all analytical roads should lead : the nature of organizational goals and the strategies used to achieve them.
    • p. xi: Preface
  • The structural viewpoint considers the roles people play, rather than the nature of the personalities in these roles. It deals with the structures in which roles are performed— the relationship of groups to each other, such as sales and production, and the degree of centralization or decentralization.
    • p. 2
  • People's attitudes are shaped at least as much by the organization in which they work as by their pre-existing attitudes.
    • p. 4
  • Once a definition is embedded in a program, the opinions of personnel who remain at the institution become congruent with it.
    • p. 34
  • Bureaucracy is a dirty word, both to the average person and to many specialists on organizations. It suggests rigid rules and regulations, a hierarchy of offices, narrow specialization of personnel, an abundance of offices or units which can hamstring those who want to get things done, impersonality, resistance to change.
Yet every organization of any significant size is bureaucratized to some degree or, to put it differently, exhibits more or less stable patterns of behaviour based upon a structure of roles and specialized tasks. Bureaucracy, in this sense, is another word for structure.
  • p. 50
  • A great deal of organizational effort is exerted to control the effects of extra-organizational influence:; upon personnel. Daily, people come contaminated into the organization... Many of the irritating aspects of [[organizational structure] are designed to control these sources of contamination.
    • p. 52
  • For our purposes then, the bureaucratic model refers to an organization which attempts to control extra-organizational influences (stemming from the characteristics of personnel and changes in the environment) through the creation of specialized (staff) positions and through such rules and devices as regulations and categorization.
    • p. 59
  • Routine tasks... are well-established techniques which are sure to work, and these are applied to essentially similar raw materials, That is, there is little uncertainty about methods and little variety or change in the tasks that must be performed.
    • p. 75
  • Nonroutine tasks:... There are few well-established techniques; there is little certainty about methods, or whether or not they will work. But it also means that there may be a variety of different task to perform, in the sense that raw materials are not standardized, or orders for customers ask for many different or custom-made products.
    • p. 75
  • Most social scientists consider the non-bureaucratic, or nonroutine organization to be good and the bureaucratic or routine organization to be bad (it impedes progress, is old- fashioned, is hard on its employees, etc.). But this judgment is debatable.
    • p. 83
  • While [bureaucratic] solutions have been frequently criticized by those within and without the organization, no alternative way has been found to cope with the problem of organizing large numbers of people to produce goods and services efficiently.
    • p. 90
  • The concept of organizational goals, like the concepts of power, authority, or leadership, has been unusually resistant to precise, unambiguous definition. Yet a definition of goals is necessary and unavoidable in organizational analysis. Organizations are established to do something; they perform work directed toward some end.
    • p. 133

Complex organizations, 1972Edit

Charles Perrow (1972), Complex organizations: a critical essay, Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman, and Company; y (3rd ed.). Random House, 1986.

  • Organization theory...has been altogether too accommodating to organizations and their power.
    • p. iii
  • People do not exist just for organizations. They track all kinds of mud from the rest of their lives into the organization, and they have all kinds of interests that are independent of the organization.
    • p. 4
  • Without this form of social technology, the industrialized countries of the West could not have reached the heights of extravagance, wealth and pollution that they currently enjoy.
  • Particularism means that irrelevant criteria like e.g. only relatives of the boss have a chance at top positions, in contrast to universalistic criteria like e.g. competences is all that counts, are employed in choosing employees... The particularistic criteria are likely to be negatively related to performance.
    • p. 8-10
  • Barnard comes close to joining Roethlisberger and Dickson in their assumption that management behavior is mainly rational and workers' behavior nonrational.
    • p. 88
  • People in these fields no longer agree that such things as norms, values, and personality really exist or account for much; these concepts may only give a false sense of order to a world that both the academic and the person in the street desperately want to order. Sociology, too, is having some difficulty swallowing the simple, obvious proposition that attitudes predict behavior. (The proposition that morale predicts productivity is just one specification of this.)
    • p. 115
  • It [the human relations school ] lacks empirical support and conceptual clarity, and it fails to grapple with the realities of authoritarian control in organizations and the true status of the subordinate
    • p. 119
  • The vast proportion of the activity in organizations goes on without personal directives and supervision – and even without written rules – and sometimes in permitted violation of the rules.
    • p. 128
  • Since organizations are established to do something, to perform work directed to some end, all organizations have goals – some implied, some explicit.
    • p. 133
  • The Basic Argument In its simplest form, the argument goes like this: when the tasks people perform are well understood, predictable, routine, and repetitive, a bureaucratic structure is the most efficient. Things can be "programmed," to use March and Simon's term. Where tasks are not well understood, generally because the 'raw material' that each person works on is poorly understood and possibly reactive, recalcitrant or self activating. the tasks are non-routine. Such units or organizations are difficult to bureaucratize.
    • p. 166
  • As with all theories, we can learn something from agency theory and transaction-costs economics, since they emphasize something others hide. But as with all theories, they also distort; in fact, I will argue that their distortions outweigh the value of what they highlight.
    • p. 220

"The short and glorious history of organizational theory", 1973Edit

Charles Perrow, "The short and glorious history of organizational theory." Organizational Dynamics 2.1 (1973): 3-15.

  • From the beginning, the forces of light and the forces of darkness have polarized the field of organizational analysis, and the struggle has been protracted and inconclusive. The forces of darkness have been represented by the mechanical school of organizational theory — those who treat the organization as a machine. This school characterizes organizations in terms o£ such things as:
  • centralized authority
  • clear lines of authority
  • specialization and expertise
  • marked division of labor
  • rules and regulations
  • clear separation of staff and line
The forces of light, which by mid-twentieth century came to be characterized as the human relations school, emphasizes people rather than machines, accommodations rather than machine-like precision, and draws its inspiration from biological systems rather than engineering systems. It has emphasized such things as:
  • delegation of authority
  • employee autonomy
  • trust and openness
  • concerns with the "whole person"
  • interpersonal dynamics
The forces of darkness formulated their position first, starting in the early part of this century. They have been characterized as the scientific management or classical management school...
  • p. 3
  • Then the works of Max Weber, first translated from the German in the 1940s — he wrote around 1910, incredibly — began to find their way into social science thought. At first, with his celebration of the efficiency of bureaucracy, he was received with only reluctant respect, and even with hostility. All writers were against bureaucracy. But it turned out, surprisingly, that managers were not. When asked, they acknowledged that they preferred clear lines of communication, clear specifications of authority and responsibility, and clear knowledge of whom they were responsible to. They were as wont to say "there ought to be a rule about this," as to say "there are too many rules around here," as wont to say "next week we've got to get organized," as to say "there is too much red tape." Gradually, studies began to show that bureaucratic organizations could change faster than non-bureaucratic ones, and that morale could be higher where there was clear evidence of bureaucracy.
    • p. 6
  • Another discipline began to intrude upon the confident work and increasingly elaborate models of the human relations theorists (largely social psychologists) and the uneasy toying with bureaucracy of the "structionalists" (largely sociologists). Both tended to study economic organizations. A few, like Philip Selznick, were noting conflict and differences in goals (perhaps because he was studying a public agency, the Tennessee Valley Authority), but most ignored conflict or treated it as a pathological manifestation of breakdowns in communication or the ego trips of unreconstructed managers.
    • p. 7
  • The burning cry in all organizations is for “good leadership,” but we have learned that beyond a threshold level of adequacy it is extremely difficult to know what good leadership is.
    • p. 13
  • The hundreds of scientific studies of this phenomenon come to one general conclusion: Leadership is highly variable or "contingent" upon a large variety of important variables such as nature of task, size of the group, length of time the group has existed, type of personnel within the group and their relationships with each other, and amount of pressure the group is under. It docs not seem likely that we'll be able to devise a way to select the best leader for a particular situation. Even if we could, that situation would probably change in a short time and thus would require a somewhat different type of leader.
    • p. 13

"Three Types of Effectiveness Studies," 1977Edit

Charles Perrow, "Three Types of Effectiveness Studies," in P.S. Goodman et al (eds.), New Perspectives on Organizational Effectiveness, San Francisco, 1977.

  • I once believed that if organizations had a better fit between their technology and their structure, they would be more efficient and thus more profitable.
    • p. 97
  • It [a power based model of organization] sees organizations a intentional human constructions but not necessarily rational systems guided by official goals; as bargaining areas rather than cooperative systems; as systems of power rather than coercive institutions reflecting cultural norms, and as resources for other organizations and groups rather than closed systems. If we define organizations, then, as intentional human constructions wherein people and groups within and without the organization compete for outputs of interest them under conditions of unequal power, we have posed the issue of effectiveness quite differently
    • p. 101 ; As cited in: Diehl-Taylor (1997)

1980s and laterEdit

  • This article [entitled A framework for the comparative analysis of organizations], was one of three independent statements in 1967 of what came to be called "contingency theory." It held that the structure of an organization depends upon (is ‘contingent’ upon) the kind of task performed, rather than upon some universal principles that apply to all organizations. The notion was in the wind at the time.
I think we were all convinced we had a breakthrough, and in some respects we did — there was no one best way of organizing; bureaucracy was efficient for some tasks and inefficient for others; top managers tried to organize departments (research, production) in the same way when they should have different structures; organizational comparisons of goals, output, morale, growth, etc., should control for types of technologies; and so on. While my formulation grew out of fieldwork, my subsequent research offered only modest support for it. I learned that managers had other ends to maximize than efficient production and they sometimes sacrificed efficiency for political and personal ends.
  • Charles Perrow, in "This Week’s Citation Classic." in: CC, Nr. 14. April 6, 1981 (online at garfield.library.upenn.edu)
  • Comment:
    The other two 1967 publications were Paul R. Lawrence & Jay W. Lorsch. Organization and environment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1967, and James D. Thompson. Organizations in action. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967.
  • American society today is shaped not nearly as much by vast open spaces as it is by vast, bureaucratic organizations. Over half the working population toils away at enterprises with 500 or more employees--up from zero percent in 1800. Is this institutional immensity the logical outcome of technological forces in an all-efficient market, as some have argued?
    • Charles Perrow, Organizing America: Wealth, power, and the origins of corporate capitalism. Princeton University Press, 2002/2009. Book abstract.
  • I consider all large organizations troublesome, including governmental and nonprofit organizations. They concentrate power in the hands of their top management; the larger the organization, the greater the power being concentrated. There are degrees of concentration of course, and some large organizations are so disorganized that they lose much of their potential power. But size is generally correlated with these kinds of power: By deciding where to locate they determine economic opportunities for some communities and deny it to others. Their hiring decisions affect the life chances of people, and can, unless checked, favor religious, ethnic, racial, and political affiliations. As consumers of resources, they can favor certain producers over others, and not necessarily on the grounds of “efficiency.” They can mobilize political resources to insure favored treatment better than small organizations.

Normal Accidents, 1984Edit

Charles Perrow (1984), Normal Accidents: Living with High-Risk Technologies.

  • As an organizational sociologist, I was interested in the system characteristics of large accidents, but the discipline also made me aware of the organizational genesis of male-made disasters.
    • p. 4
  • The essence of the normal accident [is] the interaction of multiple failures that are not in a direct operational sequence.
    • p. 23
  • Most normal accidents have a significant degree of incomprehensibility.
    • p. 23
  • The nuclear power industry, for example, lacks a strong union, has random public victims with delayed effects, has no safety board that is independent of licensing and regulatory functions, and does not see an immediate effect on its profits if safety flags (though a far more severe incentive exists to avoid a catastrophic accident which could shut down the industry)
    • p. 127
  • Engineers speak of a “control loop,” in which the “man in the loop” is the problematical element. This is the human component in a series of sequentially interacting pieces of equipment that control or adjust a function. But when the pilot is suddenly and unexpectedly brought into the control loop (in other words, participates in decision making) as a result of (inevitable) equipment failure, he is disoriented. Long periods of passive monitoring make one unprepared to act in emergencies. The sudden appearance of several alarms, all there for safety reasons, leads to disorientation.
    • p. 132
  • It takes just the right combination of circumstances to produce a catastrophe, just as it takes the right combination of inevitable errors to produce an accident.
    • p. 356

Quotes about Charles PerrowEdit

  • If one has heard of Charles Perrow, it is usually in connection with the book Complex Organizations. While this monograph provides an excellent overview of various schools of organizational thought, it deals only marginally with Perrow's own theories. The scholarship that focuses solely on his conception of organization, however, is far less known and well received for a number of reasons. Perrow is an organizational sociologist working in a field dominated by management theorists and economists whose scholarship revolves around human relations and econometric models - approaches Perrow largely reject.
    • Christiane Diehl-Taylor. "Charles Perrow and Business History: A Neo-Weberian Approach to Business Bureaucratization," in: Business and Economic History 26, no. 1 (Fall 1997)
  • Normal Accidents contributed key concepts to a set of intellectual developments in the 1980s that revolutionized the conception of safety and risk. It made the case for examining technological failures as the product of highly interacting systems, and highlighted organizational and management factors as the main causes of failures. Technological disasters could no longer be ascribed to isolated equipment malfunction, operator error or acts of God... Perrow concluded that the failure at Three Mile Island was a consequence of the system's immense complexity. Such modern high-risk systems, he realized, were prone to failures however well they were managed. It was inevitable that they would eventually suffer what he termed a 'normal accident'. Therefore, he suggested, we might do better to contemplate a radical redesign, or if that was not possible, to abandon such technology entirely.
    • Nick Pidgeon. "In retrospect:Normal accidents". Nature, (Vol 477), September 22, 2011.

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