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Review/Application of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure

By Thomas B. Grosh IV
Associate Director of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship's Emerging Scholars Network
Evangelical Seminary Student (Master of Arts in Religion)

In Spring 2012, I hosted Kent Annan, co-founder of Haiti Partners and author of two InterVarsity Press books, at a number of South Central PA venues including Evangelical. After visiting, Kent passed along Tim Harford's Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure (New York, NY: Picador, 2011). Adapt provides excellent advice on navigating failure and spearheading change in the "mind-bogglingly complicated" modern world (3).

Harford's no-nonsense storytelling approach builds upon and deepens his argument for real life "miracles." He argues that success emerges from adapting to failure. This model stands in contrast to the model of "overinflated" big picture leaders surrounded by a cadre of experts with problem-solving technological tools fed by a highly organized data gathering system. I resonate with

  • failure going "hand in hand with rapid progress" (12)
  • "decentralized process of trial and error" (33)
  • right decisions facilitated by "a clash of very different perspective" encouraged by the management (65)
  • the call for "disciplined pluralism" (280).

Harford understands failure through an evolutionary lens:

evolution is a process driven by the failure of the less fit. . . . Variation, and selection, again and again. . . . the evolutionary mix of small steps and occasional wild gambles is the best possible way to search for solutions (13-15).

He thus offers three essential steps to success:

to try new things, in the expectation that some will fail; to make failure survivable, because it will be common; and to make sure that you know when you've failed (38).

On InterVarsity Christian Fellowship staff, I continually try out new "things," and then I refine the concept through lessons learned and advice offered before advancing as an idea to colleagues on a larger scale locally or nationally. This spring, I found myself running to keep pace with future events emerging from Kent's visit to Evangelical and elsewhere.

But in contrast to Harford's argument in Adapt, my

  • hope for change
  • foundation for security
  • proper sense of success, failure, and identity
come together in Christ alone.

Without one's foundation in Christ, the fruitlessness of one's labors will eventually ring in one's ears-—no matter how well one succeeds through adaptation.

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