Why Success Always Starts with Failure

Tim Harford - 2012 - Hachette - 352 pages


2021 May 13 | by Arduino Mancini Creative thinking

Organizations and social structures of different kinds tend to rely on the guidance of a leader or a small group of people who are considered to possess adequate competencies: it so happens that we ask a politician, a manager or a guru to face and solve complex issues for us and we rely on their recipes without evaluating them with sufficient critical thinking.

When, subsequently, we analyze the effectiveness of the solutions adopted, we realize that they rarely lead to satisfactory results and the problems are so complex that they cannot be solved in the planned way: and, above all, that no one really seems to have a definitive solution.

In this remarkable book, the author shows unequivocally that the world is so complicated and unpredictable as to make the pre-packaged formulas useless, when not harmful.

What can we do, then?

We can take a paradoxical approach, adopting a thinking strategy that encourages us to find solutions through error, imitating the approach that nature employed to respond to the challenges of change: evolution and adaptation.

Skillfully weaving together psychology, biology, anthropology, physics, and economics, Harford builds passionate praise of error, showing us how failures in counter-terrorism, climate change, business management, poverty, and financial crises can inspire new models and winning solutions.

Models that show that the map cannot ignore the knowledge of the territory, and that decisions based purely on “centralized” information lead to failure, because they are intrinsically unable to generate an adaptation to reality.

According to the author, what can help us to solve many problems is the awareness of the need to build in everyone a mental attitude that stops considering feedback exclusively as a criticism of personal worth, and enhances it as information capable of encouraging the discovery of new solutions.

In addition, according to Hartford, we must have the courage to go off the rails by introducing innovation and creativity into business and life, adapting to specific situations and, if necessary, breaking the rules.

In essence, we need to learn to make mistakes systematically; we need to be aware that the trial-and-error method so much criticized by many “experts” and organizations based on the concept of blame is the only key to successfully managing a complex and changing world.

A must-read book.

Now a video in which Tim Hartford talks about the book at the London Business Forum, then go to the table of contents.




One – Adapting

Two – Conflict: how organizations learn

Three – Creating new ideas that matter: variation

Four – Understanding how to fight poverty: selection

Five – Climate change: changing the rules to succeed

Six – Financial disaster prevention: decoupling

Seven – The organization that knows how to adapt

Eight – You and adaptation




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