Adapt Tim Harford


Self-delusion is just one of the failures Tim Harford explores in his ace book, ‘Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure”. He offers up brilliant insight into why humans are wired for screwing things up including 4 dangerous self-deceptions that prevent people from embracing failure…

  1. Denial. Examples of people plowing ahead with ill-conceived plans despite numerous pieces of feedback about its flaw.
  2. Sunk Losses. “The second trap our minds set for us is that we chase our losses in an attempt to make them go away. Recall Frank, the luckless contestant on Deal or No Deal: having discarded the box containing half a million Euros, he proceed to reject ever more reasonable offers from the Banker until he ended up with next to nothing. All because, to quote the psychologists Kahneman and Tversky, he had not ‘made peace with his losses.’”
  3. Hedonistic Editing. “A subtler process of convincing ourselves that a mistake doesn’t matter. One way we do this is by bundling together losses and gains.” Like a SlimLine G&T or an ice cream float with diet root beer.
  4. Risk Compensation. The notion that making things ‘safer’ gets people to think failure can’t happen so they take extra risks making them more in danger than they were before the safeguards. ”It’s as if people used the invention of seatbelts to take up drunk-driving.

Harford also advocates ‘whistleblowers’ not just as organisational watch dogs, but as personal ones as well…

  • We need whistleblowers in our own lives to warn us about the ‘latent errors’ that we have made and which are just waiting to catch us out. In short, we need a critic, and for most of us, the inner critic is not nearly frank enough. We need someone who can help us hold those two jostling thoughts at the same time: I am not a failure – but I made a mistake.”

The book is filled with gems which I will feature in a number of posts to follow.