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Reading / Listening List


The Challenger Launch Decision:
Risky Technology, Culture, and Deviance at NASA

Diane Vaughan studied the culture at NASA to identify the organizational factors which contributed to the loss of space shuttle Challenger. She coined the phrase “normalization of deviance” to describe “the gradual process through which unacceptable practice or standards become … the social norm for the organization.” This is essential reading for anyone concerned with effective organizational decision-making, especially for high-risk industries like aerospace and defense.

Normal Accidents:
Living with High-Risk Technologies

Charles Perrow explores the emergent interactions inherent in complex and tightly-coupled systems, and how these contribute to catastrophic failures. This understanding can help systems engineers make better design decisions.

The Atomic Chef:
And Other True Tales of Design, Technology, and Human Error

In a follow-up to the acclaimed Set Phasers on Stun, Steven Casey presents twenty true stories of “human error” that illustrate how poor design can result in catastrophe. Learn from these mistakes to improve your own designs.

The Phoenix Project:
A Novel About IT, DevOps, and Helping Your Business Win

Inspired by the classic business novel The Goal, Gene Kim, Kevin Behr, and George Spafford tell the story of one company’s transformation through the application of lean principles. Though it’s centered on information systems (i.e. IT), the concepts translate into all types of systems developed with lean or agile principles.

Humble Pi: A Comedy of Maths Errors

Matt Parker is famous for his stand up routine about spreadsheets, along with a strong YouTube following based on math—er, maths. In Humble Pi, Matt shares real-world case studies of maths and engineering errors. It is equal parts informative, engaging, and thought-provoking.

Turn the Ship Around!: A True Story of Turning Followers into Leaders

This is my favorite leadership book. Managers talk about “empowering” their staff, leaders actually do it. Submarine commander L. David Marquet transformed his crew from the worst to the best performing in the Navy, also increasing morale and retention. This book is great for individual contributors as well because it will help you understand what to look for in a great leader who will trust and value you.

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable

This is another excellent leadership book, focusing on developing effective teams. It’s written from the perspective of a CEO, but the dysfunctions and leadership lessons apply to any team.


Cautionary Tales

“Undercover Economist” Tim Harford presents this series about human psychology, design, and error. As with many of the books linked above, these stories provide an opportunity to learn from others’ mistakes.

Steve Blank Podcast

The entrepreneur, professor, and co-creator of “Hacking for Defense” program talks about innovation at large companies and in the DoD.