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VINE VOICEon 24 June 2012
'All failure is a failure to adapt', says McKeown in his introduction to this book.

In the living world, if a species doesn't adapt to its environment, it dies and its precise genetic make-up leaves the gene pool. Organisms that evolve through chance mutation or through the evolutionary selection of existing advantageous adaptations manage to survive to reproduce another day. But, as McKeown points out, human beings have managed to add another layer of adaptation to the brute business of genetic inheritance. McKeown characterises these mechanisms as culture, science and technology: we learn and pass on tricks that help to us adapt to changing circumstances, regardless of our genetic make-up.

McKeown's introduction to 'Rule 1' (Play your own Game) says it all: 'If you are getting whipped playing by the existing rules, get used to losing or change the game. If you can't win by standing and fighting then run and hide. If you can't win by being big, be small. If you can't win by being small, be big. The first rule of winning is that there is no one way to win.' Organisations - especially corporations - need to remind themselves of this vital need for constant adaptation, argues McKeown. As another of his proposed rules for survival nicely puts it, `Stability is a dangerous illusion.' Or, as he quotes IBM CEO Virginia Rometty as saying: 'You may be only one mistake away from irrelevance.'

The problem is that most organisations are inherently conservative; they don't just resist change, they actively fight against it. McKeown offers three fundamental steps for survival that form the structure of this book: recognise the need for adaptation; understand what adaption is required; do what is necessary to adapt. Adaptability is stuffed full of examples, some familiar, some new, of organisations which failed to notice that they needed to adapt until it was too late, or nearly too late: the American car industry in the face of nimbler Japanese competition; the banking group UBS in the face of what had become an institutionalised pattern of irresponsible trading that led, apparently suddenly, to the loss of $2.5 billion by one employee. To quote another of McKeown's rules: 'Stupid survives until smart succeeds.' I also liked his comment - in the context of the US car industry thinking of a dozen reasons why Japanese car manufacturers might be selling more cars other than the simple fact that they were making cars that people preferred to buy: 'enthusiastic ignorance is the most dangerous behaviour to enlightened adaptation.'

There are four possible outcomes of adaptation, or failure to adapt, according to McKeown: collapse; survival; thriving; transcendence. Sometimes, he argues, we survive but continue in a pretty miserable existence. Sometimes we get it right and thrive. Sometimes, which is even better, we 'transcend' the situation: we escape the constraints of the existing situation and rise above it; we move from one way of living or working to a better way. This is what corporations should seek to achieve.

McKeown's aim is laudable: 'My interest is in understanding more about how social groups can move beyond the existing rules to find games that allow more people to win more often.' This is a thoroughly enjoyable book that expands intelligently on its premise, and which ranges impressively across all the fields of human endeavour in the search for illustrations of the essential need for adaptation: from the war in Iraq to making Levis with less water; from the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to game theory; from the National Football League to Easter Islanders. McKeown may in fact, have been a little too generous in the illustrations of his central argument - at times the sheer profusion of examples makes the head spin a little - but this is a well-developed book with a consistent and well-argued theme. I agree wholeheartedly with McKeown that adaptability is one of the key blind spots of modern business: when organisations are successful, they tend to fight tooth and nail to maintain the circumstances that have made them successful. But circumstances change.
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on 23 July 2015
The book has a fairly good framework and gets across the need for flexibility and adaption. Despite this is sometimes seems like the point of an individual chapter has been semi-lost. The extensive examples almost take away from the point rather than adding to it, I find myself skipping over some sections because there are multiple extensive examples for any one point (perhaps added in as filler to make it longer as the book is only 200 pages anyway). I feel the book would be much improved if at the end of each chapter there were just a few sentences giving a clear indication of what exactly his advice were as it sometimes feels unclear
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on 16 February 2015
Very good illustrations and examples throughout of how adaptation was used through a broad range of time in history to not only survive, but move beyond this to at times transcend certain situations.
Worth reading for sure if you want to know more about adapting & how this has been achieved in the past.
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on 28 May 2012
Max McKeown writes: the point is not to learn to fail, but to learn what works from failure.
I was really looking forward to this book as I feel the author has identifed what I regard as one of the key issues for innovation and creativity and have read his earlier readable introductions to innovation.

I have a bad habit of folding over the corners of books I read to indicate where I have made notes. A great book sees nearly every page with its corner folded down, here sadly there were very few of its pages folded back.

The book falls between the stools of telling its thesis through a number of core stories or being very process-led with numerous bullet point to do lists.

In being somewhere in between, it just falls short of being exceptional. I really do hope Max uses the principles of 'Adaptability' and grows from this experience.
An uncertain review I'm afraid for a book about uncertainty.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 28 June 2012
"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change." Charles Darwin

Max Mckeown presents his material within a three-part framework that focuses on these strategic objectives: How to recognize the need to adapt? (Chapters 1-6), How to understand necessary adaptation? (Chapters 12-17), and How to adapt as necessary? (Chapters 12-17). As Abraham Maslow suggests with his "Hierarchy of Needs" (usually portrayed in the form of a pyramid), man must first survive before giving thought to security; and only when secure can man consider "self-actualization" (i.e. personal fulfillment). Mckeown's primary objective in this book is to help his reader to understand when, how, and why to adapt "faster and smarter than the [given] situation changes." He accepts Darwin's concept of natural selection but asserts, "Adapt or die is not the only choice. In the future, you can try to maintain what you already have, or you can attempt to transcend the constraints of your situation. We're part of a long chain of adaptive moves. Each move has changed the circumstances of our ancestors, until we arrived." How to learn how to adapt?

In response to that question, Mckeown provides an abundance of information, insights, and counsel. Here are a few of the dozens of passages in his narrative that caught my eye:

o Why all failure is failure to adapt
o How to embrace "unacceptable wisdom"
o Why stability is a "dangerous illusion"
o Why learning fast is better than failing fast
o How to think better together
o Why hierarchy is "fossil fuel"
o How to "get your ambition on"

Mckeown is well-aware of the importance of survival to countless individuals as well as to countless organizations and even countries throughout the world. However, his hope -- one that I share -- is that those who read this book will aspire to accomplishing more, much more than survival.

The key, in my opinion, is first developing and then applying a mindset that recognizes the need for adaptation, understands what adaptation requires, and possesses imagination and (yes) courage sufficient to separate thinking repetition -- perpetuating what James O'Toole so aptly characterizes as "the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom" -- from adaptive iteration. Change may be inevitable but progress is not. The need to adapt is inevitable but being able to do that effectively is not.

I introduced this brief commentary with a statement by Charles Darwin and now conclude it with another: "In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed."
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on 18 September 2012
Organizational success and failure can be reduced to one thing, or so argues management consultant Max McKeown in his scientific and cultural look at adaptability around the globe and through the ages. If groups can't change and adapt appropriately, they can't succeed. McKeown offers case studies from companies you know, such as Starbucks, providing insight into familiar story lines. Some of his other examples aren't as famous but are just as compelling: He looks at civil war in Liberia, computer game development and Italian bureaucracy to flesh out his 17 rules (which would be just as good without those few swear words) for adapting and, thus, succeeding. McKeown's rules are eye-catching, but they don't always connect smoothly to the stories or to a plan of action. As such, some of the book works better as a history of adaptability than as a manual for acquiring that skill. Still, an eager reader can tease out techniques and ideas for becoming more adaptable, and McKeown offers warm, inspirational tales that provide general road maps for successful adaptation. getAbstract believes leaders of companies small or large looking to motivate their employees or themselves will find value here.
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on 28 March 2013
Just finished reading adaptabiility by Max Mckeown and have to say that I really enjoyed it. The book is about the importance of adaptation for organisations, and how successful ones go about it. The author makes his case very strongly using examples drawn from politics, businesses, the army, and the animal kingdom to name a few.

The book is divided into three parts:

1) Recognizing the need to adapt
2) Understand necessary adaptation
3) Adapt as necessary

The first section outlines why we need to adapt and what indicators tell us that it is time to adapt. There are chapters with titles such as `All failure is failure to adapt' and `Stupid survives until smart succeeds'. I found these chapters really worked, bringing together some things I already knew but never previously connected.

After making his case the author goes on to explain how we should go about adaptation. He offers us a set of guidelines on how we should set up our organisations and how the leaders of these organisations should think and act.

All round this is a great book filled with compelling arguments. I would definitely recommend you to read it regardless of the size of organisation you work in.
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on 8 May 2012
This is a very useful extension of the thinking on Adaptation in a variety of fields. The Author's search for and explanation of examples of adaptability, or the lack of it includes many interesting studies. Sometimes the number of them allows the reader to lose the focus of a chapter but this redeemed by their relevance.

The book tries to encapsulate the principles of adaptability and succeeds in this, while the Chapter based Rules break this down into example led chunks.
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on 10 April 2012
After skipping the introduction I quickly became engrossed, whenever i found 5 minutes i would pick it up and read one more rule, one more rule that would widen my view of how to win. Adaptability was a real eye opener, for me working in management it gave me all sorts of ideas on how to increase the productivity and creativity of my employees and therefore increase our chances of survival in the short term and success in the long term. I have already recommended this book to my close friends and family and am intent on making all my colleagues read it, and so i implore anyway whose got this far to get this book as fast as they can, so that they can get ahead of the competition. I eagerly await his next book, and in the meantime will use use this book as my working bible.
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on 21 May 2012
I read a ton of business books and most are either lacking in substance or lacking in steps to go from point A to point B. Honestly, the writing style of Adaptability threw me at first, but once I got into it, the excess number of examples were not a problem. Max seriously did his research for this. He draws on some interesting historical situations to prove his points. Rule #2 (Embrace unconventional wisdom) reminded me of my father, a rogue entrepreneur. He always said to never listen to those who said it can't be done but to those who said what if we could.

All-in-all a great book and one that sparked more thinking for sure, Adaptability is almost a lost art that should be taught in school at young age.
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