Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure by Tim Harford

How Organizations Learn

  • No plan survives first contact with the enemy. Tim uses the failures and successes of the American Army in Iraq to point out the problems associated with top-down control. Key to success are getting dissenting ideas from the bottom of the hierarchy where people know what is actually going on. If leaders create a culture where underlings are hesitant to disagree, disaster may follow. Leaders need to demand dissent, not just tolerate it. Many successes in Iraq occurred when officers in the field ignored orders from on top. People on the front line need to feel free to adapt. You also need to bring people with different perspectives into the decision making process. Centralized organizations can avoid duplication of effort, but they don’t work so well in fast-changing situations.
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