Richard Farson, PhD

Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins: The Paradox of Innovation


Richard Farson

Dr. Richard Farson has led several organizations noted for their innovative programs in human affairs. As president of the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute, which he helped found in 1958, he directs the Institute’s centerpiece program, The International Leadership Forum, an Internet based think tank composed entirely of highly influential leaders addressing the critical policy issues of our time.

Long interested in the field of design, he was the founding dean of the School of Design at the California Institute of the Arts, and a 30 year member of the Board of Directors of the International Design Conference in Aspen, of which he was president for seven years. In 1999 he was elected as the one Public Director (non-architect) to the national Board of Directors of the American Institute of Architects.

Dr. Farson is an accomplished speaker, having addressed hundreds of groups including major keynote presentations on a wide range of subjects dealing with human affairs such as leadership and management, education, social and environmental design, and family life. Among his presentations, either as lectures or all day seminars, are the following:

Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership

Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins: The Paradox of Innovation

MetaManagement: Transcending the Conventional

Educational Leadership in the 21st Century

Management by Design

Keynote Topics...

Management of the Absurd: Paradoxes in Leadership

This presentation draws from his critically acclaimed bestseller of that title, now published in eleven languages. About the book, management guru Tom Peters raved, "This may be the best book on leadership I’ve ever read." Fortune said, "If you are willing to look at your life, your career, and your company from an entirely fresh angle, this book may provide more surprises and insights than you will find in any ten other management tomes …" Making the case that paradox, or seeming absurdity, is the rule not the exception in all human affairs, Farson illuminates the otherwise puzzling and frustrating behavior of both individuals and organizations. In so doing, he equips managers with a powerful new way to cope with the dilemmas of leadership


Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins: The Paradox of Innovation

Recently, Farson, and co-author Ralph Keyes, published another highly praised, and highly contrarian book, of that title, casting new light on the subject of success and failure. The Miami Herald called it "inspirational and revolutionary." When ingrained attitudes about success and failure change, the meaning of every act of management changes too. This is especially true in the effort to stimulate innovation. Fostering innovation requires encouraging risk taking, accepting failure, and treating success and failure similarly, as steps to further achievement. Success and failure do not work at all the way most people think they do. Relying on conventional, outmoded ideas about these fundamental concepts stands in the way of a manager’s ability to innovate, compete, and stay ahead of the curve. (An article based on this book won the McKinsey award for the best Harvard Business Review article published in 2002, the one "most likely to have a major influence on managers worldwide.")


MetaManagement: Transcending the Conventional

Although most books and articles addressed to managers would make it seem as if their responsibilities can be mastered by learning a few simple rules and skills, the fact is that management is extraordinarily complex and challenging, one of the most complicated roles in our society. It should be regarded as a true profession. The term MetaManagement refers to that higher calling, that transcends the ordinary. To meet the new requirements of leadership in the 21st century managers need to be aware of concepts not typically covered in traditional business school curricula. These include, of course, paradoxical management and changing concepts of success and failure. But they also include the new significance of situation design, the shifting characteristics of the modern workforce, the role of intrinsic vs. extrinsic rewards, the actual conditions that elicit innovation, the altered context of work—globalization, virtual organization, new technologies, and, of special importance currently, leadership and ethics. This presentation introduces managers to these still largely invisible forces that will increasingly shape their working environment, giving them potent new ways to approach their multifaceted responsibilities.


Educational Leadership in the 21st Century

Public education is in the midst of a crisis that threatens its very existence. The public is demanding improvement, but most of the changes demanded, and now being instituted, are counter-productive. Educational leaders are caught in one dilemma after another, trying to utilize the latest in pedagogical research, and at the same time trying to satisfy the public outcries. The entire establishment upon which our nation depends for the development of an informed citizenry and a civil society is in danger. School administrators need new ways of perceiving and coping with these dilemmas.


Management by Design

"Design" will be the byword in management during the coming decades. The reason is that the design of situations, environments and organizations, is the most powerful determinant of human behavior and achievement. More powerful than personality or leadership style or any other factor discussed in management texts. Compare, for example, a discussion at a round table with one at a rectangular one. The participants, agenda, time, and everything else may be the same but the interaction, leadership and outcomes will be importantly different. Or note the effect on creativity when a small autonomous unit is set up separately from a large organization (a "skunkworks"). Adding other social design concepts gives managers an important new approach to solving some of the most difficult problems they face, as well as a valuable way to elicit innovation. As a leader in both management development and design (see biography), Dr. Farson is uniquely qualified to address this new area.

Among his other interests, he is currently writing a book on family life, The Amateur Family, dealing with the paradoxes in marriage, divorce and parenthood, and in particular the counter-productive ways in which society and the professions have emphasized skills and techniques in the effort to manage these relationships, but as a consequence have unnecessarily confused and overburdened the family. Farson proposes, and justifies, a family life instead based on the real meaning of amateur, doing something just for the love of it.


What Others Are Saying About Richard's Book...

"As a book and as a concept, Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins ought to be highly visible in everyone’s office. Those of us leading traditionally risk-averse large national non-profit organizations can benefit immensely from its wisdom. I intend to buy it for my board and management team."

Gloria Feldt, President

Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc.

"Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes have written a compelling book on an important subject. I especially liked the wealth of sport stories it incorporates, along with business situations and research findings. Their book’s message is as much about living as it is about leading. It illustrates a radically different way to regard ‘succeeding’ and ‘failing’—one that could deepen the moral authority of any leader."

Michael McCaskey, Chairman

Chicago Bears Football Club

"Whoever Makes the Most Mistakes Wins promises to become a classic in that genre of modern wisdom literature which includes Eric Berne’s Games People Play and Laurence J. Peter’s The Peter Principle. Its unexpected turns, liberating humor, and shrewd observations about social creativity and business innovation have the flavor of Mark Twain mixed with Zen and Taoist ribaldry. This is a wonderful book!"

Michael Murphy, Founder

Esalen Institute: Author, Golf in the Kingdom

"As we move into the 21st century, an age of increasingly revolutionary technological advances, the concepts of success and failure must be reinterpreted and transcended if we are to be truly innovative in our ideas and discoveries. Richard Farson and Ralph Keyes provide an insightful and original examination of these concepts and of the critical need to redefine them in the post-modern world."

Richard C. Atkinson, President

University of California

"Fabulous! I love this book. It’s like a Zen koan:  concise, wise, inspiring and instructive. It is a modern guidebook for how to embrace paradox and free yourself from fear of failure. In a time when we’re subjected to a host of irrelevant, sappy, or overly simplistic self-help books, this book provides intelligent, truly useful advice."

Mary Boone, President

Boone Associates; Author, Leadership and the Computer and Managing

Home Location: San Diego, California