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Why Most Things Fail: Evolution, Extinction and Economics

ISBN: 978-0-470-08919-4
272 pages
February 2007
Why Most Things Fail: Evolution, Extinction and Economics (0470089199) cover image


Failure is the most fundamental feature of biological, social and economic systems. Just as species fail—and become extinct—so do companies, brands and public policies. And while failure may be hard to handle, understanding the pervasive nature of failure in the world of human societies and economies is essential for those looking to succeed.

Linking economic models with models of biological evolution, Why Most Things Fail identifies the subtle patterns that comprise the apparent disorder of failure and analyzes why failure arises. Throughout the book, author Paul Ormerod exposes the flaws in some of today's most basic economic assumptions, and examines how professionals in both business and government can help their organizations survive and thrive in a world that has become too complex. Along the way, Ormerod discusses how the Iron Law of Failure applies to business and government, and reveals how you can achieve optimal social and economic outcomes by properly adapting to a world characterized by constant change, evolution and disequilibrium.

Filled with in-depth insight, expert advice and illustrative examples, Why Most Things Fail will show you why failure is so common and what you can do to become one of the few who succeed.

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Table of Contents

Preface to the Paperback Edition vii

Preface to the First Edition ix

Introduction xi

1 The Edwardian Explosion 1

2 A Formula for Failure 17

3 Up a Bit, Then Down a Bit 36

4 Making Sense of Segregation 58

5 Playing by the Rules 77

6 A Game of Chess 100

7 “The Best-Laid Schemes . . . ” 118

8 Doves and Hawks 140

9 Patterns in the Dark 155

10 The Powers that Be 169

11 Take Your Pick? 189

12 Resolving the Dilemma 202

13 Why Things Fail 211

14 What Is to Be Done? 222

Suggestions for Further Reading 241

Index 247

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Author Information

Paul Ormerod, a theoretical economist and successful businessman, has served as the head of the Economic Assessment Unit at The Economist and the director of economics at the Henley Centre for Forecasting in England. He has taught economics at the University of London and the University of Manchester. Ormerod is founder of the consulting firm Volterra and is an alumnus of Oxford University and Cambridge University.
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New to This Edition

  • AUTHOR IS AN AUTHORITY ON THE SUBJECT.  As the former head of the Economic Assessment Unit at The Economist and the direcdtor of economics at the Henley Centre for Forecasting in England, Paul Ormerod brings an extensive amount of knowledge on the subject matter. 
  • ECONOMICS IS A HOT TOPIC.  This book is accessible to all, since it is almost entirely written in prose and lacks the heavy charts and equations that many find intimidating.  In economic theory, there is an abundance of material on what firms should do to ensure success; there is little, if anything at all, analyzing why firms fail
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Why Most Things Fail: Evolution, Extinction and Economics (US $16.95)

-and- Ignorance, Confidence, and Filthy Rich Friends: The Business Adventures of Mark Twain, Chronic Speculator and Entrepreneur (US $22.95)

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