Credit: Gary Butterfield

You know that feeling when you find a kindred spirit? For me, that feeling is excitement, and it happens when I connect with someone who shares a similar (but distinct) worldview and we immediately begin a rapid-fire brain download.

That’s the feeling I had when I interviewed Michael Bungay Stanier for my podcast.

It turns out that Michael and I both share a belief in the transformational power of curiosity. That belief is something that underlies our solutions in Meltdown and ties together Michael’s excellent book, The Advice Trap.

It also shows up in the work I do helping leaders…


Credit: Alejandro Escamilla

As I try to do at the end of every year, I’m taking some time to reflect this week.

There’s a lot to reflect on.

Whatever you thought you would be working on in 2020, the universe had a different path charted. In addition to the economic and physical suffering caused by the coronavirus, this year has been an example of large-scale systems breakdowns, and one of the things I’m interested in is the particular ways in which people have adapted to them.

One of the most powerful ways to adapt to changing conditions is by setting goals.

If you…


Warm refreshments, winter fun, and social media.

What could capture the holidays better?

One of my favorite stories from Meltdown is about a Starbucks social media disaster that arrived just in time for the holidays. We’re providing an excerpt here to get you in the holiday spirit.

In the winter of 2012, Starbucks launched a social media campaign to get coffee lovers in the holiday spirit. It asked its customers to post festive messages on Twitter using the hashtag #SpreadTheCheer. …


Credit: Dockside Cannabis

What’s your niche?

My friend Oscar Velasco-Schmitz owns and runs Dockside Cannabis, a retail cannabis establishment. We had a fascinating conversation on my podcast.

Though Dockside is licensed and legal in Seattle, Oscar and his partners run a business that is, from a federal perspective, engaged in “an industrial act of civil disobedience.”

Despite that, they still have to think about all the things that normal businesses think about: branding, supply chain, health and safety, salaries, store design, and one of the most important considerations for any business: niche.

Dockside’s mission is to provide a delightful cannabis retail experience for…


Credit: Mark Bonica

What do you get when you think in systems?

I recently interviewed my friend and mentor Roger Martin for my podcast. One of the things that we talked about–and a subject at the heart of Meltdown–was how thinking in systems can benefit anyone managing a complex problem.

Or, as MIT’s John Sterman puts it, “there are no side-effects-just effects.” Everything we do has consequences. It’s up to us to understand what those consequences are.

Much of Roger’s writing is about how businesses (and, with his latest book, society writ large) think too narrowly about their actions.

We see this in…


Credit: Alessandro Valli

If you’re cooking Thanksgiving dinner this week, did you know that you’re operating in a complex system?

One of my favorite parts of writing Meltdown was connecting it to the everyday.

My coauthor András Tilcsik and I drew the central idea of the book from a Yale sociologist named Charles Perrow. By studying the Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown and other large-scale disasters, Perrow and his researchers identified complexity and tight coupling (a lack of slack in the system) as major contributors to systems failures.

András and I extended Perrow’s thought-provoking framework. Our observation was that the world was becoming…


Credit: Jambulboy

One of the things I’ve had to learn as a consultant and a coach is that my clients mostly want results.

They have a problem that they want to solve: how to create a culture of innovation, say, or how to make their law firm run more smoothly.

My mental model is that they don’t really care how it gets solved (as long as it’s within the bounds of integrity).

In general, they’re not so interested in the fact that my approach is grounded in Gestalt, or machine learning, or whatever. As long as the solution is credible, I could…


This past week revealed that our democracy works–but barely.

Regular readers know that I spend a lot of time thinking about systems — technology, teams, and organizations.

This week has got me thinking about the American political system writ large.

In 1997, Donella Meadows published an essay called “Leverage Points: Places to Intervene in a System.” Though the piece doesn’t focus on politics, it’s a remarkable guide to the current state of our modern political situation.

In it, Meadows, a biophysicist with a PhD from Harvard, lays out the ways that we can influence the systems around us. …


Credit: Des Tan

Holy cow.

Doesn’t April 21st, 2020 seem like a decade ago?

It does to me. That’s the day that Harvard Business Review published the article I wrote with two Seattle-based physicians on managing the COVID-19 crisis .

The article was about how one hospital system built a sustainable response to a dynamic and evolving crisis.

I had the opportunity to reread the article recently and reconnect with its universal message: whether it’s managing hybrid schooling or helping teams shift their approaches on the fly, things are changing so fast that we need to learn and adapt as quickly as we…


I work with a lot of people who are trying to change something in their teams, small firms, or large organizations.

One of the things I’ve noticed over the years of doing this work is that there can be a tendency to want to make a big, dramatic, “transformational” change in one fell swoop. To take on a new strategy, for example, or to change the culture of a team.

My observation is that this approach rarely works, regardless of whether you’re a small enterprise (a few lawyers who run a Trusts and Estates firm, say) or a huge, well-resourced…

Chris Clearfield

Host of The Breakdown™ podcast. Co-author of MELTDOWN, a book on why our systems fail & what we can do about it. A lot, it turns out. http://bit.ly/1-meltdown

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