Summary of Why Most Things Fail

Evolution, Extinction and Economics

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Why Most Things Fail book summary
Evolutionary biology may reveal more about business failures than random economics explains.


10 Overall

9 Applicability

10 Innovation

9 Style


This excellent, short work by Paul Ormerod is a worthy successor to his remarkably successful Butterfly Economics. As he did in that work, he draws here on lessons from biology to explain phenomena in economics. He covers a wide range of subjects, time periods and theories, all tied together (though not without some straining at the rope) by an inquiry into failure. Although Ormerod makes every effort to keep the work accessible, that scarcely makes it is easy reading. Readers who lack at least a nodding acquaintance with scientific writings and economic studies may find this hard slogging indeed. With that caveat, getAbstract thinks that readers who have a background in this field should pay serious attention to Ormerod’s ideas. The notion that failure is inherent and inevitable for many systems ought to guide business strategies and - especially - government regulation.

In this summary, you will learn

  • How economists have ignored failure, perhaps the most salient fact of business life
  • How evolutionary biology can enlighten economics


The Fact of Failure
Most businesses fail. Even large, successful, monopolistic corporations are not secure. Pioneering economist Alfred Marshall thought early in his career that, like trees, massive corporations would eventually die. Later, he changed his mind, writing around 1910 that...
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About the Author

Paul Ormerod was the head of the economic assessment unit at The Economist and the director of economics at the Henley Center for Forecasting in England. He taught economics at the universities of London and Manchester, and was a founder of a major consulting firm.

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