Bounded rationality, complexity, and operational failure

Lessons from the Lac-Mégantic disaster

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review

Abstract

Despite the best effort of industries and regulatory bodies employing and overseeing complex technical systems to mitigate failures, they are not always successful. In the current study, I examine the fatal accident at Lac-Mégantic in 2013, where a freight train carrying millions of liters of crude oil derailed resulting in the death of 47 people. Five years later, authorities have been unable to identify a root cause. To enhance our understanding of unexpected failures of complex systems and artifacts, I attempt to uncover the mechanisms underlying the accident. I first adopt the ‘defense in depth’ approach commonly employed in the industry and highlight its shortcomings. I develop an explanation centered on unrealized system drift, brought on by incremental deviations, normalized by boundedly rational agents adapting to local conditions. I propose the invisible hand of complexity steers the artifact undetected towards failure, and our limited understanding of complex systems impedes us from comprehending the implications of drift. I submit the regulatory response is unlikely to prevent similar accidents because our current ontological and epistemological framework to manage complex artifacts and investigate their failures is flawed. I develop theoretical and practical implications of my findings, and conclude with prescriptions to mitigate accidents.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAcademy of Management Proceedings
PublisherAcademy of Management
Pages10927
Volume2019
Edition1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019

Fingerprint

Disasters
Accidents
Large scale systems
Industry
Crude oil

Cite this

Bhardwaj, A. (2019). Bounded rationality, complexity, and operational failure: Lessons from the Lac-Mégantic disaster. In Academy of Management Proceedings (1 ed., Vol. 2019, pp. 10927). Academy of Management. https://doi.org/10.5465/AMBPP.2019.30
Bhardwaj, Akhil. / Bounded rationality, complexity, and operational failure : Lessons from the Lac-Mégantic disaster. Academy of Management Proceedings. Vol. 2019 1. ed. Academy of Management, 2019. pp. 10927
@inproceedings{eb8a85131494488cae7202b5645e1c34,
title = "Bounded rationality, complexity, and operational failure: Lessons from the Lac-M{\'e}gantic disaster",
abstract = "Despite the best effort of industries and regulatory bodies employing and overseeing complex technical systems to mitigate failures, they are not always successful. In the current study, I examine the fatal accident at Lac-M{\'e}gantic in 2013, where a freight train carrying millions of liters of crude oil derailed resulting in the death of 47 people. Five years later, authorities have been unable to identify a root cause. To enhance our understanding of unexpected failures of complex systems and artifacts, I attempt to uncover the mechanisms underlying the accident. I first adopt the ‘defense in depth’ approach commonly employed in the industry and highlight its shortcomings. I develop an explanation centered on unrealized system drift, brought on by incremental deviations, normalized by boundedly rational agents adapting to local conditions. I propose the invisible hand of complexity steers the artifact undetected towards failure, and our limited understanding of complex systems impedes us from comprehending the implications of drift. I submit the regulatory response is unlikely to prevent similar accidents because our current ontological and epistemological framework to manage complex artifacts and investigate their failures is flawed. I develop theoretical and practical implications of my findings, and conclude with prescriptions to mitigate accidents.",
author = "Akhil Bhardwaj",
year = "2019",
month = "8",
day = "1",
doi = "10.5465/AMBPP.2019.30",
language = "English",
volume = "2019",
pages = "10927",
booktitle = "Academy of Management Proceedings",
publisher = "Academy of Management",
address = "United States",
edition = "1",

}

Bhardwaj, A 2019, Bounded rationality, complexity, and operational failure: Lessons from the Lac-Mégantic disaster. in Academy of Management Proceedings. 1 edn, vol. 2019, Academy of Management, pp. 10927. https://doi.org/10.5465/AMBPP.2019.30

Bounded rationality, complexity, and operational failure : Lessons from the Lac-Mégantic disaster. / Bhardwaj, Akhil.

Academy of Management Proceedings. Vol. 2019 1. ed. Academy of Management, 2019. p. 10927.

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionScientificpeer-review

TY - GEN

T1 - Bounded rationality, complexity, and operational failure

T2 - Lessons from the Lac-Mégantic disaster

AU - Bhardwaj, Akhil

PY - 2019/8/1

Y1 - 2019/8/1

N2 - Despite the best effort of industries and regulatory bodies employing and overseeing complex technical systems to mitigate failures, they are not always successful. In the current study, I examine the fatal accident at Lac-Mégantic in 2013, where a freight train carrying millions of liters of crude oil derailed resulting in the death of 47 people. Five years later, authorities have been unable to identify a root cause. To enhance our understanding of unexpected failures of complex systems and artifacts, I attempt to uncover the mechanisms underlying the accident. I first adopt the ‘defense in depth’ approach commonly employed in the industry and highlight its shortcomings. I develop an explanation centered on unrealized system drift, brought on by incremental deviations, normalized by boundedly rational agents adapting to local conditions. I propose the invisible hand of complexity steers the artifact undetected towards failure, and our limited understanding of complex systems impedes us from comprehending the implications of drift. I submit the regulatory response is unlikely to prevent similar accidents because our current ontological and epistemological framework to manage complex artifacts and investigate their failures is flawed. I develop theoretical and practical implications of my findings, and conclude with prescriptions to mitigate accidents.

AB - Despite the best effort of industries and regulatory bodies employing and overseeing complex technical systems to mitigate failures, they are not always successful. In the current study, I examine the fatal accident at Lac-Mégantic in 2013, where a freight train carrying millions of liters of crude oil derailed resulting in the death of 47 people. Five years later, authorities have been unable to identify a root cause. To enhance our understanding of unexpected failures of complex systems and artifacts, I attempt to uncover the mechanisms underlying the accident. I first adopt the ‘defense in depth’ approach commonly employed in the industry and highlight its shortcomings. I develop an explanation centered on unrealized system drift, brought on by incremental deviations, normalized by boundedly rational agents adapting to local conditions. I propose the invisible hand of complexity steers the artifact undetected towards failure, and our limited understanding of complex systems impedes us from comprehending the implications of drift. I submit the regulatory response is unlikely to prevent similar accidents because our current ontological and epistemological framework to manage complex artifacts and investigate their failures is flawed. I develop theoretical and practical implications of my findings, and conclude with prescriptions to mitigate accidents.

U2 - 10.5465/AMBPP.2019.30

DO - 10.5465/AMBPP.2019.30

M3 - Conference contribution

VL - 2019

SP - 10927

BT - Academy of Management Proceedings

PB - Academy of Management

ER -

Bhardwaj A. Bounded rationality, complexity, and operational failure: Lessons from the Lac-Mégantic disaster. In Academy of Management Proceedings. 1 ed. Vol. 2019. Academy of Management. 2019. p. 10927 https://doi.org/10.5465/AMBPP.2019.30