Organizations in which reliable performance is a more pressing issue than efficient performance often must learn to cope with incomprehensible technologies by means other than trial and error, since the cost of failure is too high. Discovery and consistent application of substitutes for trial and error—such as imagination, simulation, vicarious experience, and stories—contribute to heightened reliability. Organizational culture is integral to the creation of effective substitutes. Using examples taken from air traffic control, nuclear power generation, and naval carrier operations, this article demonstrates that closer attention to the ways people construct meaning can suggest new ways to improve reliability.
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