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Home » Course Catalogue » MBA Electives » RSM2063H – Catastrophic Failure in Organizations

RSM2063H – Catastrophic Failure in Organizations

General Information


Applicable Major(s):
(c) = Core, (r) = Recommended

  • Consulting (r)
  • Social Impact & Sustainability (c)

Instructor Bio

András Tilcsik has been recognized as one of the 40 under 40 best business school professors in the world and one of the 30 management thinkers most likely to shape the future of how organizations are managed and led. His book with Chris Clearfield, Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It, won the National Business Book Award and was named a best book of the year by the Financial Times.

Target Audience

This course is for students interested in understanding what makes modern organizations vulnerable to catastrophic failure and how strategic and organizational design choices can mitigate the risk of such failure. The course is particularly suitable to those with an interest in consulting, general management, leadership and change management, and health sector management. Students with an interest in public policy may also find the course rewarding.


12 weekly sessions

Course Mission & Scope

Addressing the risk of catastrophic failure is a critical strategic challenge for business organizations. From business disruption in the wake of COVID-19 to the collapse of Lehman Brothers to BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill and the scandalous fall of Theranos, numerous events in recent years have exposed the vulnerabilities of firms to massive failures. Rooted in complex human, organizational, and systemic factors, such failures have the potential to severely disrupt and even bankrupt firms. This course seeks to train students to recognize the inherent vulnerabilities of organizations to catastrophic failure, to understand why the risk of such failure represents both a profound challenge and a potential opportunity, and to become more effective decision-makers in general. To do so, we examine biases in human cognition that prevent managers from thinking effectively about the risk of catastrophic failure; consider why even small errors can have devastating consequences in complex systems; and examine how organizational barriers to learning and communication can set firms up for catastrophic failure. Throughout the course, we will consider opportunities for managers and consultants to manage these challenges.

Evaluation and Grade Distribution

ComponentDue DatesWeight
Class ContributionOngoing20%
Short PaperTBD15%
Final PaperTBD65%

Required Resources

This course relies on written cases and documentary films to understand the nature of failure in organizations. Most readings and video materials will be available online.

Last Updated: 2021-05-31 @ 12:11 pm