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Mapping the Sources of Power

The knowledge and abilities that come with experience.

I published Sources of Power in 1998, intending it as a counterpoint to all the publicity about how biased people are, how irrational, how overconfident. Lost in the arguments about biases and irrationality was an appreciation for how skillful people can be, how well we can apply our expertise, how effective we are at making difficult decisions under time pressure and uncertainty. This positive message in Sources of Power resonated fairly widely.

Nevertheless, the critiques of human decision making that seemed so one-sided in 1998 have continued in the past 20 years, and are possibly even more strident today. The popular media have picked up on the theme of biases and irrationality, and that is why the message of Sources of Power continues to be relevant. MIT Press is planning to issue a 20th anniversary edition of Sources of Power in September 2017, with a new Introduction.

At the end of the 1998 book, I included a whimsical map of the sources of power discussed in the previous chapters. I sketched out a crude version of this map and the artist David Sweeney created the version that appeared in the book and is shown here.

Recently, my wife Helen asked me what, if anything, I would change about this map. As I reviewed the page proofs of the anniversary edition, I was struck by how well the map has held up.

Gary Klein
Source: Gary Klein

All of the entries seem very relevant to the field of Naturalistic Decision Making (see Klein, 2008). I would like to add a few additional ones, such as sensemaking and anticipatory thinking. I also want to add the capacity for speculative thinking, which goes farther that the map entry for imagining. I want to tone down the emphasis the map gives to intuition/pattern matching and mental simulation. These are shown as the centerpiece of the 1998 map because together they make up the Recognition-Primed Decision (RPD) model that was the primary discovery described in the book.

Still, these modifications are fairly minor. The depiction of the sources of power seems as relevant today as in 1998.

However, in reviewing the 1998 map I found myself making a distinction between the types of knowledge people have and the abilities that their experience enable. The 1998 map doesn’t make this distinction and I think it might be important.

So here is an updated map, 20 years later, rendered by the graphic artist Michael Fleishman. The sources of power stem from six types of knowledge: mindreading (essentially, the knowledge of other people that allows us to take their perspective), perceptual discriminations, the playbook of procedures for getting things done, pattern recognition, the mental models of how things work, and the mindsets that we acquire.

These types of knowledge give rise to a variety of abilities that are the sources of power we can use to handle complex and ambiguous situations.

Gary Klein
Source: Gary Klein


Klein, G. (1998). Sources of power: How we make decisions. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Klein, G. (2008). Naturalistic decision making. Human Factors, 50(3): 456-460.