Unexpected Consequences

Why The Things We Trust Fail

by James William Martin


Hurricane Katrina and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti were natural disasters, but their effects were exacerbated by human failures. Likewise, the BP oil spill was caused, in part, by faulty technology, but also by the failure of safety protocols. Although we may not always be able to escape such risks, understanding why they occur is an important step.

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Cover image for Unexpected Consequences

September 2011


Pages 280
Volumes 1
Size 6 1/8x9 1/4
Topics Business/Strategy

In this book, interrelationships between more than 40 recent catastrophic events are explored, discussing failures of structures and machines, information technology, regulatory agencies, security designs, and more.

The world is full of wonderful products and services that occasionally disappoint and even harm us. Unexpected Consequences: Why The Things We Trust Fail explores the reasons these failures occur, examining them from technological, human, and organizational perspectives. Using more than 40 recent catastrophic events to illustrate its points, the book discusses structural and machine failure, but also the often-overlooked failure of people and of systems related to such things as information technology, healthcare, and security.

As the book demonstrates, faulty technology played a surprisingly small part in many of the scrutinized disasters. Author James William Martin finds cognitive factors and organizational dynamics, including ethics, are major contributors to most unexpected and catastrophic failures causing loss of life and extensive property damage. With that fresh perspective in mind, Martin is able to suggest remedies that address service failure and just may help prevent future disasters from taking place.


  • Over 40 case studies
  • Easy to grasp figures, tables, and templates to help the readers understand the concepts
  • A glossary of relevant terms
  • A bibliography


  • Presents the technical, cognitive, and organizational factors associated with the design and failure of products and services
  • Introduces new topics related to social psychology, as well as organizational culture and ethics, to explain product and service failures
  • Shows that when failures occur, they are often due to human error rather than unknown technology
  • Provides helpful advice for preventing failures of products and services
Author Info

James William Martin is the author of several books focused on change management, teamwork, and process improvement. He has coached and counseled thousands of people across Japan, China, Korea, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Australia, and North America to use fact-based methods to achieve goals and improve their lives. His interests include environmentally friendly design, as well as personal and organizational ethics, productivity, and change management. He holds a MS degree in mechanical engineering from Northeastern University, an MBA from Providence College, and BS degrees in industrial engineering and biology from the University of Rhode Island.



"The book's seven chapters provide an interesting, timely perspective on the unique interrelationship among a project's technological design, an organization's culture and dynamics, and social-psychological factors such as attitudes, information filtering, self-concept, social influence, status, self-esteem, and volition as causal factors in the often unexpected and usually catastrophic failures."Choice

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