Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure
by Tim Harford

Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with FailureThe author argues that today’s challenges simply cannot be tackled with ready-made solutions and expert opinions; the world has become far too unpredictable and profoundly complex. Instead, we must adapt—improvise rather than plan, work from the bottom up rather than the top down, and take baby steps rather than great leaps forward. Drawing from research across disciplines — psychology, evolutionary biology, anthropology, physics, mathematics, political science, and economics—and interviews with some of the world’s most pioneering leaders, thinkers, and strategists, Harford presents hard-won lessons learned in the field and the importance of adaptive, trial-and-error processes in tackling issues such as fostering innovation, climate change, poverty, the financial crises, and conflict.

Articles, reviews, TED Talks, etc. related to the book Adapt

1.  Review Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure – review
Rafael Behr The Guardian/The Observer
June 3, 2011

2. Review Adapt
Alex Knapp Forbes
July 24, 2011

3. TED Talk Tim Harford: Trial, Error and the God Complex
July 2011, 18:07 minutes

4.  Book Highlights Adapting
Scott Lampman (USAID)

5.  Review article and interview with Tim Harford (audio)
NPR Radio – Morning Edition
May 23, 2011  (5 min. 25 sec.)

6.  From Toasters to the War in Iraq: How Group Think Leads to Failure (audio)
ABC Radio National (Australian Broadcasting Corp.)
July 18, 2011  (22 min. 58 sec.)

One thought on “Adapt

  1. Thanks to those who could make the discussion yesterday. I found it engaging and rich. The book had so much great content that we only scratch the surface. As I read the book, the ideas covered by Harford caused me to make connections with other books I had read.

    On the idea of charted cities, I thought it interesting that Edward Glaeser’s “Triumph of the City” ( makes the case that cities are one of our greatest innovations and that they serve as places that drive further achievement. You can find a New York Times review ( and a Freakonomics podcast Why Cities Rock ( for more as well. Harford’s mention of Paul Romer (Why the World Needs Charter Cities put me in mind of the fiction book “Last Stand on Zanzibar” by John Brunner.

    If you have an interest on reading more about cognitive dissonance, I recommend “Mistakes Were Made (but not by me)” by Tavris and Aronson ( I liked how Harford indicates that cognitive dissonance and the possible resulting denial of failure hampers our ability to learn. I wonder what the impact is of using euphemisms such as “lesson learned” and “challenges” for failure on our ability to learn.

    Please share your thoughts and resources.

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