“Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions” by Klein

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In the chapters, 1-3 summary of the book “Sources of Power: How people make decisions” by Gary Klein, several approaches as well as intrigues of the decision-making process are discussed. The ability to make relevant and yet reliable decisions within a limited time frame is important. Most decision-makers ranging from individuals to corporate organizations may sometimes find themselves eluding the task of making decisions due to the analysis involved. This is the reason why more research needs to be carried out in this field to provide decision-makers with vital skills and competencies required to handle situations that demand rapid but cautionary responses.

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The Book Summary

There are myriad sets of capabilities through which people derive power. The traditional sources of power include deductive sensible reasoning, critical assessment of likelihoods, and methodologies which entails the real measurement of values. Nevertheless, the natural setting does not require the said statistical and highly analyzed sources of power. Intuition, for instance, would enable us to assess the prevailing situation within the shortest time possible. Such a source of power is the one needed in a real situation. Another imperative source of power regarding urgent decision-making is the ability to stimulate our mental capacity on what line of action to take. This requires a well-streamlined imagination (Beach, 1990). Even as we draw on creating a perfect image in the course of decision-making, metaphors are equally important. This will assist in relating our experiences in the past against the situation at hand. Besides, the power to tell stories logically and systematically will assist to harmonize our experiences so that that they can be useful in the future. Unfortunately, these significant elements have not been addressed adequately.

The natural decision-making task is demarcated by time constraints, demanding roles, accustomed decision-makers, insufficient data which may not be available, unclear, or laced with mistakes. Other factors in this respect include poorly defined goals and objectives, methodologies, stress, changing conditions that cannot be predicted, and coordination of a group.

Time is a very important factor when studying people and their ability to make decisions within the limited time possible. For instance, foreground commanders would make most of their decision pints in a record time of sixty seconds or less.

Natural decision-making is also characterized by high stakes as well as high risks. For example, an ill decision made by a foreground commander may lead to the loss of lives. In addition, those who have experience in decision-making are the best suited to make high-level decisions points that require equally high precision due to the level of risks involved. The sources of power required in decision-making cannot be complete without giving due consideration to experience.

The naturalistic decision-making procedure is also influenced by dynamism which is often characterized by changing circumstances. New data may be accommodated in the current situation or past and incoherent information made invalid. At the same time, goals and objectives can radically change. To solidify this fact, a study on fire ground commanders revealed that the circumstance changed on a mean of five times per event. A similar result was obtained when the research was carried out on U.S Navy commanders. Teamwork also necessitates the application of decision-making. Usually, it is not common to find a unilateral decision-maker where groups are involved. The field of pragmatic decision-making procedures requires the harmonization of all these pertinent factors. Theory alone in the absence of application is not sufficient and this is why it is important to elaborate more on application than mere literature which is void of a natural situation.

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The first study involved the firefighting team which the U.S federal government had requested research proposals to be written in a bid to study the decision-making patterns of people when time is limited. This was a requirement by the U.S Army Research Institute for the Behavioral and Social Sciences. The description of what this department wanted was all about the enhanced understanding of perceptive procedures like problem-solving as well as approaches that can be used to support the decision-making process within strict timelines. There was also growing interested from the civilian program directors on the need to increase people’s capacity in making ell informed decisions.

The rate at which army officers join and leave the service is rather high. On the same note, even those officers who happen to stay in service for a considerable length of time are rotated quite often. For this reason, there is usually limited time for training officers who are affected by this dynamics to offer sufficient training to junior officers. The need for these officers to develop skills at a faster rate is important. However, the earlier research studies carried out on decision-making capabilities had been disappointing. There was ambiguity on the training needs of a new lieutenant who would make reliable decisions necessary to regulate a tank platoon under his authority.

To draw a clear plan for the research, fire ground commanders were studied. Their main role is to deal with fire incidents both in urban and suburban settings. These officers are said to be highly accustomed to their work and they often encounter high stake incidences. Moreover, commanders work under high time pressure which may sometimes require scientific consultation amid the crisis.

The second part of the study involved observers who were primarily undergraduate college students. Their role was to report to the scene of fire incidents and make the necessary observations. The worst mistake made from this arrangement was the deployment of inexperienced undergraduate college students. The initial observation was only best suited for trained and well-experienced officials.

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In the overall analysis, the decision-maker has the noble task of identifying the available set of alternatives which are then supposed to be keenly evaluated to make sound decisions (Benner1984). This decision-maker can achieve this by further assessing each option and establishing the suitability of each. Eventually, the decision-maker lands on the option with the highest rating.

Several other studies conducted by the author revealed one thing in common: that people who are not only experienced but efficient in their work have a higher score when recounting the same to the expectant audience. The study carried out was not merely a set of stories being told.it is also quite necessary to choose the right event to research upon. To decide what we need from given stories, a strategic plan is necessary (Drenth, Thierry & De Wolff 1998). This plan may aptly comprise a list of items to be addressed during the study. In attaining the best results, two people were sent out to conduct the interview; one coordinating the interview process while the other person takes the relevant details as it is being recounted as well as confirming from the checklist that all details as proposed earlier are catered for. To differentiate between a unilateral assessment and a comparative strategy is not a cumbersome task. A comparative evaluation aims at establishing a better option to use when making decisions. The difference between these two types of strategies lies in the study conducted by Herbert Simon. In his research, he identified an element referred to as satisfying in which the immediate alternative that works is to be chosen when making decisions. However, the practice of optimizing is quite difficult. It also consumes a lot of time. On the other hand, to satisfy is more effective. In this regard, the principle of satisfaction leads to achieving a unilateral evaluation strategy. This model was used by Simon to quantitatively explain how businessmen behave when making key decisions. This concept is even much more applicable to fire ground commanders owing to the time limitation they usually have.

Another category is where there were new incidences and most likely required the application of modified options. This category was not complete without the application of decisions that required a cognitive approach. Most decision platforms fit within this category. In addition, those incidences which were routinely carried out would have given extraordinary results.

To qualitatively explain the Recognition-Primed Decision model, two unique procedures come into play. To begin with, the actual decision-makers on the ground develop the mental image of the magnitude of the situation to evaluate which line of action is logical. Besides, they have the duty of referring to the appropriate goals and relevant hints alongside the expectations just in case the incidence grows out of proportion.

Finally, the Recognition-Primed decision model has its theoretical significance. Nevertheless, there is a belief that people have a general tendency of eluding the task of decision-making due to the consequent analysis involved. Notwithstanding this perception, the decision-making process can be achieved best by first of all unveiling all the available options. These alternatives are then put into a full scale of goals and objectives designed earlier. Thereafter, the prevailing costs, associated dangers, and likely gains of each alternative are critically put into a fair judgment. In cases where the situation proves to be dynamic and perhaps new in the face of decision-makers, validation of the old information is necessary. The new details are then incorporated into the existing database. As a cautionary measure to reduce the level of mistakes, both the negative ad positive impacts of each alternative should be re-evaluated. Finally, there should be a provision for miscellaneous risks should they occur.

There are merits of the rational option strategy. In the first place, it should yield decisions that can be dependent upon (Morgan, 1998). In this case, the results should be consistent. Besides, the outcome is quantitative enough to permit thorough diagnosis which in turn helps those who are new in the field to learn more. Moreover, the rational strategy is thorough and puts every detail into account. To sum up, this strategy has a general perspective that would aptly apply in most situations.

The critical analysis

The book evaluates some latest findings which have been identified from real conventional and practical decision-making processes. The book also stipulates the desirable research methodologies which can be conducted in a realistic environment away from the laboratory. It further specifies how realistic decision-making can be carried out with people who are accustomed to the condition. Additionally, the book is focusing on how the logical thinking of people works when it comes to a real setting which requires decisions to be made which simultaneously require different sources of power. The book deeply investigates the actual sources of power concerning decision-making platforms and the accompanying strengths and limitations of using them. Moreover, the book gives a detailed description of how these sources of power can be used for capacity building and training towards building sound organizational systems.

The author, Gary Klein, is a research professional who has conducted several research projects on the subject of decision-making. He is well endowed with much experience in this field as can be observed from a series of research studies he has carried out with his team since he first did a federal government research project on the army department which was a resounding success. This department had struggled for a decade trying to implement some research studies on decision making with no tangible results.

The main purpose for writing this book was to supplement the earlier literature written to address the needs of decision making and which the author asserts that the book will “balance the others and take a different perspective” (Klein 1998, p. 1). The author has attempted to reinforce some of the human strongholds as well as abilities that have not been addressed sufficiently or perhaps completely ignored.

The author is attempting to reach a wide variety of audiences ranging from individuals to corporate organizations. Of particular importance is the audience who often manages crisis and whose decision-making process is usually constrained by time. As it is evident, time is an important factor here as Achinstein (1992) and Bell, Raïffa, and Tversky (1988) point out in their writings. Klein (1998) is also keen on reaching out to disaster managers like fire ground commanders and system administrators who are usually liable for the outcomes of decisions made. However, the decision-making process involving teams is not a unilateral move (Pennings1986, Shapira1997) and should involve being consultative.

The other target audience which Klein is attempting to reach out is the ordinary individual. As he confirms, “we try to study how people handle all their typical confusions…” (p.1). The said confusions associated with decision making are lack of data (Baron1988), time pressure (Adelman, Gualtieri & Stanford, 1995), ambiguity and unclear goals as well as dynamic situations (Anderson,1993). However, Ranyard, Crozier, and Svenson (1997) tend to suggest a different perspective in decision making which entails a cognitive process and which ay not necessarily be affected by the above3 confusions. This model is similar to the one outlined by Bell, Raïffa, and Tversky (1988) which interlaces three distinct procedures namely descriptive, normative and prescriptive in the process of decision making.

The other readership which is being targeted by the author is the laboratory researchers who mainly dwell on the ideal situations in their experiments contrary to a natural situation which often entails high stakes. This audience may have some “preconceived notions that may get in the way or their strategies could distort…” (Klein 1998, pp.5-6). Berkeley and Humphreys (1982) are also in unanimity when they observe that there might be a skewed opinion when experimental results are entirely relied upon for efficient decision-making.


In summing up this critical analysis paper, it is imperative to note that the process of decision especially in situations that involve high stakes requires a critical analysis within the limited time possible. Decision-making task involving individuals or groups is a very significant strategy that can be used to strengthen administrative systems as well as personal engagements. Nonetheless, most failing goals and objectives can usually be traced back to lack of adequate data to facilitate decision making especially during emergencies, vague goals, or lack of clarity as well as the inability to examine and analyze the given set of options adopted.

Reference List

Achinstein, L. (1992). Evaluating decision support and expert systems. New York: Willey

Adelman, L., Gualtieri, J., and Stanford, S. (1995). Examining the effect of casual focus on the option generation process: An experiment using protocol analysis. Organizational Behaviour and Human Decision processes 61: 54-66

Anderson, J.R. (1993). Problem solving and learning. American Psychologist, 48: 35-44

Baron, J. (1988). Thinking and deciding. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Beach, L.R. (1990). Image theory: Decision making in personal and organizational contexts. West Sussex, England: Willey.

Bell E. D, Raïffa H, Tversky A. (1988). Decision making: descriptive, normative, and prescriptive interactions. Cambridge: Cambridge university press.

Benner, P. (1984). From novice to expert: Excellence and power in clinical nursing practice. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Willey.

Berkeley, D., and Humphreys, P. (1982). Structuring decision problems and the bias “heuristic.” Acta Psychological 50:201-252.

Drenth P.J.D, Thierry H and De Wolff C.J (1998). A Handbook of Work and Organizational Psychology. East Sussex: Psychology Press.

Klein, G. (1998). Sources of power: how people make decisions. MA: Massachusetts institute of technology.

Miner B. J (2007). Organizational behavior: From theory to practice, Volume 4. New York: M.E Sharpe Inc.

Morgan, G. (1998). Images of organization. California: Sage publications.

Pennings M.J (1986). Decision making: an organizational behavior approach New York: Markus Wiener publishing Inc.

Ranyard W.R, Crozier R, and Svenson O (1997). Decision making: cognitive models and explanations. New York: Routledge.

Shapira Z. (1997). Organizational decision making. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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PsychologyWriting. "“Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions” by Klein." February 26, 2022. https://psychologywriting.com/sources-of-power-how-people-make-decisions-by-klein/.