Concatenating Bad Decisions
September 11, 2019 1:23 PM   Subscribe

What is the term for a chain of bad decisions based on misperception of a situation that leads to each additional decision making the situation worse?

This has been driving me nuts for a couple of days now- I know I've seen it cited on the Blue before, but I'll be damned if I can remember what it is.

I'm looking for a term, often applied in crisis or disaster response, that describes how a series of innocuous-seeming decisions early on, often based on misperceptions of the crisis, can lead to a worsening state where, ultimately, any decision that is made will be a bad one.
posted by TheWhiteSkull to Writing & Language (24 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
A clusterfuck!
posted by Mistress at 1:28 PM on September 11, 2019 [8 favorites]

vicious circle
posted by runincircles at 1:32 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by LobsterMitten at 1:38 PM on September 11, 2019 [8 favorites]

I am remembering something like the concept you're talking about being called something like the "Incident Funnel". That's wrong, or at least when I google it I don't find anything relevant. But possibly it's close enough to the right term that it'll help someone else remember it? The context I think I saw it in was talking about scuba diving -- the first bad decision making following bad decisions more likely.
posted by LizardBreath at 1:38 PM on September 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Snowball effect?
posted by DrAstroZoom at 1:39 PM on September 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Yeah, there's definitely something like "funnel" or "trough" involved.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:41 PM on September 11, 2019

posted by solotoro at 1:48 PM on September 11, 2019

Downward spiral.
posted by CollectiveMind at 1:50 PM on September 11, 2019

Downward spiral

posted by sacrifix at 1:51 PM on September 11, 2019

The concept escalation of commitment may be helpful.
posted by jedicus at 1:53 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

Compounding error.
posted by DB Cooper at 1:56 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

hideously topical proffering of "cascade effect": "What we're seeing is a short (and clearly "manicured") version of (Yellowhammer). The reality could well be worse, especially because of distinct issues intersecting with each other and creating a cascade effect. "
posted by runincircles at 2:02 PM on September 11, 2019

Maybe a related phrase is "Normalization of Deviance", coined by sociologist Diane Vaughan when reviewing the Challenger disaster.
posted by mhum at 2:05 PM on September 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

I seem to recall a chart like 'cone of diminishing options' from some air crash show, but I can't google it. Anyway, the point of it was: the further that time passes and decisions stack up, what you can do to save the plane eventually goes to zero.

Also maybe: chain-of-events, train-wreck
posted by j_curiouser at 2:23 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by airplant at 2:30 PM on September 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Okay, I found one reference to "incident funnel" in what I think is the right sense, but it's just a comment on some scuba forum:

ArcticDiver: I read a great post by Dan Mackay on another board in which he mentioned the "incident funnel'. He described a funnel where the sides got deeper the further you got into it, until you get to the point of no return.

The earlier in the 'funnel' you get the issue solved, the easier it is to prevent serious problems. I would think that gas planning is at the absolute edge of the funnel. So many issues can be prevented early just with planning.

If you got gas, everything else is a nuisance. Several people on this board have said it.

If you teach "Plan you dive and Dive your plan" but don't teach a key piece, that may not be negligence, but i probably should be...

So, now I'm pretty sure that's what I was thinking of, but it doesn't seem to be commonly used at all.
posted by LizardBreath at 2:45 PM on September 11, 2019 [7 favorites]

"Slippery Slope" and "Domino effect" (sometimes with the implication of each successive domino knocking down a larger one) are the ones I hear most often.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:10 PM on September 11, 2019

Larry David.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 3:19 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by Lanark at 3:37 PM on September 11, 2019

If you're still looking I think the Air France Flight 447 crash was an instance of this & would have been discussed on the Blue.
posted by bleep at 4:11 PM on September 11, 2019

Best answer:
posted by DeepSeaHaggis at 4:25 PM on September 11, 2019 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: Incident pit! That's it!

I thought I was losing my mind.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 4:42 PM on September 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Free-floating anxiety?
posted by Baeria at 8:44 PM on September 11, 2019

Swanage Coastguard Rescue Team provides a lucid (hypothetical) example of an incident pit in this 2011 blog post. The scene-setting paragraph reads as follows:
Two trained divers decide to dive a wreck, for arguments sake we’ll call it HMS Swanage. They decide they will only dive to the top of the wreck. They do their buddy and kit checks and jump in. The first diver remembers he’s left his spare diving mask on the boat, but decides “...well it’s a shallow dive and we’re in the water so let’s just get cracking.” The chap has just entered the Incident Pit and what’s more he’s unknowlingly dragged his mate in with him.
posted by virago at 8:32 AM on September 12, 2019 [2 favorites]

« Older Vacation in France: Loire (Amboise), Burgundy...   |   Beyond Dr. Seuss and Big Nate Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.