New York Times
June 13, 2011
Some of the blogs I follow—Marginal Revolution, Ezra Klein—have given ample attention to Tim Harford’s new book, Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. So I solipsistically assumed that everybody must be aware of it. But then I happened to glance at this book’s Amazon ranking, which as I write is down on the wrong side of 1,500. This is an outrage, people! For the good of the world, a bigger slice of humanity should be aware of its contents.
So I’m doing my bit to publicize it. (I don’t know Harford in any way, shape or form.)
Harford starts out with the premise that the world is a very complicated and difficult place. At the dawn of the automobile industry roughly 2,000 car companies sprang into being. Less than 1 percent of them survived. Even if you make it to the top, it is very hard to stay there. The historian Leslie Hannah identified the ten largest American companies in 1912. None of those companies ranked in the top 100 companies by 1990.
Harford’s basic lesson is you have to design your life to make effective use of failures. You have to design systems of trial and error, or to use a natural word, evolution. Most successful enterprises are built through a process of groping and adaptation, not planning.