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Customer Review

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intrepid investigation into ways we can solve big issues, 22 Jun. 2011
This review is from: Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure (Hardcover)
This is another excellent book from Harford, but it's rather different in approach from his first two, The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life. Rather than explaining the reasons everyday activities and processes work the way they do - no small feat in itself - Harford uses Adapt to examine the mechanics of solving problems.

Using a variety of well-researched and engaging examples, Harford points to simple trial and error as an essential part of tackling change and overcoming obstacles. Adapt takes its core theme from this notion, that small, frequent failures from which we can learn allow us to avoid infrequent but colossal mistakes.

Harford examines some very serious, pressing and in some cases ongoing problems, including the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and the insurgency faced by US troops in Iraq. He looks at why solutions imposed by distant managers from a central location often go wrong, while alternatives informed by the experience of people on the ground can often make the difference.

All too often, the architects of these improvised solutions are ignored, vilified or even killed, in the case of one visionary engineer who tried to deal with some of the Stalin regime's excesses. But Harford lays out the principle that listening to their suggestions can often save us from perhaps even more serious problems in the future.

Humans are rather different from single-celled creatures like paramecium, which navigates around by bumping repeatedly into objects, changing course slightly each time until it can continue. But it's a sobering thought that, metaphorically at least, we often need to rely on the same method. At the very least, we want to approach our own obstacles prepared to make changes early on - and Adapt can help us work out how.
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