Review: Adapt by Tim Harford

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure

In the tradition of others such as Thomas Homer-Dixon, John Kay (who he mentions as an influence), and Nassim Taleb, Tim takes a look at the complex systems that underpin the world today, how they function, and, more importantly, what makes them succeed (and fail). It’s great for anyone thinking about the entrepreneurial lifestyle or resiliency is it relates to the success of individuals, communities, and civilizations.

Given the systems thinking embedded here, this is a book about feedback. In short, Tim says we should capture and leverage the information we get from failure to shape future efforts. This isn’t recovery, this is thriving in an environment and mindset dedicated to maximizing the returns from this loop.

And it’s fundamentally not a self-help book. It’s an examination of the rich history of this approach and the impact it’s had on areas as diverse as finance, warfare (quite cool to see H.R. McMaster given some much needed accolades here), and Broadway.

Though he stumbles in the carbon tax chapter (‘natural’ fuel inflation remains unaddressed), he does a great job simplifying complex phenomena (like the 2008 crisis and the inefficiency of international development) while retaining depth. Not a quick read, but it flows well, is humorous at times (“Chuchillian jowls”),  and is well worth the ~260 pages. Lots of great passages to keep around.


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