With the same originality and astuteness that marked his widely praised Butterfly Economics, Paul Ormerod now examines the “Iron Law of Failure” as it applies to business and government–and explains what can be done about it.
“Failure is all around us,” asserts Ormerod. For every General Electric–still going strong after more than one hundred years–there are dozens of businesses like Central Leather, which was one of the world’s largest companies in 1912 but was liquidated in 1952. Ormerod debunks conventional economic theory–that the world economy ticks along in perfect equilibrium according to the best-laid plans of business and government–and delves into the reasons for the failure of brands, entire companies, and public policies. Inspired by recent advances in evolutionary theory and biology, Ormerod illuminates the ways in which companies and policy-setting sectors of government behave much like living organisms: unless they evolve, they die. But he also makes clear how desirable social and economic outcomes may be achieved when individuals, companies and governments adapt in response to the actual behavior and requirements of their customers and constituents.
Why Most Things Fail is a fascinating and provocative study of a truth all too seldom acknowledged.
Businesses collapse just as surely as people do, yet economics textbooks and financial reporters stubbornly concentrate on success rather than failure. Ormerod (Butterfly Economics) argues this outlook is fundamentally flawed; failure, he says, is "the distinguishing feature of corporate life," and he uses it to link economic models with models of biological evolution, which he presents as a string of extinctions rather than survival of the fittest. Despite this parallel, his focus is on economic theory and what he sees as its inadequate accounting of uncertainty (defined as the impossibility of knowing how policies or business strategies will work) and how it breeds failure. He writes about complex concepts such as power-law behavior, game theory and bounded rationality, but makes them accessible to the lay reader with lengthy but readable explanations that forsake jargon for contemporary cultural references. (Though people who are already familiar with the debates he brings up will doubtless get more out of the book) Yet for all his persuasive examples, the book never crystallizes into a whole, so while readers may find many parts provocative, they are likely to finish it still lacking a complete understanding of failure as Ormerod sees it.