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Learning from the Octopus

 Start a Learning from the Octopus Book Club!


My new book, “Learning from the Octopus: How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters and Disease” is now published, and it is gorgeous.  That bright orange octopus on the cover illustrated by Ernst Haeckel is embossed, so you can feel its tentacles!

INSIDE you’ll find troubling tales of our failures in society to be adaptable, remarkable stories of the intricate ways in which natural organisms have survived and thrived for billions of years on an unpredictable planet, and hopeful examples of how all sorts of people, organizations, corporations and bureaucracies have learned to be adaptable.

THE MAIN PREMISE of the book is that natural organisms have learned to thrive in an unpredictable and risk filled planet without having the power to plan, predict, or try to perfect themselves.  By contrast, we waste endless resources on strategic planning, predictive models, and optimization, with few successes to show for it.  Natural organisms have successfully avoided all this waste by being adaptable.

ADAPTABILITY has become a popular corporate buzzword, but few people actually know what it means to be adaptable, or how to do it.  This book breaks adaptability down into its component parts and then shows how they can be inserted into any area of society where risk is present and unpredictable.

LEARNING FROM THE OCTOPUS is the result of a long journey, from the tidepools of Monterey Bay, where I conducted marine biology research, to the halls of Congress, where I served as a science advisor to Congresswoman Hilda Solis after 9/11.  It was there that I witnessed first hand how poorly adapted and wasteful our massive new “intelligently designed” security architecture was.  For the past several years, I have facilitated a series of discussions based on the simple question, “what can we learn from nature about how to keep ourselves more secure?” Participants have included evolutionary biologists, psychologists, anthropologists, soldiers and marines, police and fire chiefs, TSA agents, air marshalls, public health practitioners, business leaders and cyber security experts.  The lessons in “Learning from the Octopus” are told through the stories of these people–all keen observers of nature and security–as well as through the natural organisms–from viruses to octopuses–that are all wonderful examples of how to learn from success and adapt to an ever-changing planet.

HOW CAN YOU BUY A COPY?  Just go to my friends at Powells, the best book store in the world!



This wonderful mural was done on the spot by the very talented Stephanie Brown when I gave a presentation at the Chesapeake Bay Organization Development Network conference ( .   She can be hired to graphically summarize your next conference!


Video of my presentation at Biosphere2′s Science Cafe at Saddlebrooke:

Video of my presentation at Google Tech Talks:

Webcast of my interview with “Mrs. Green” on the fabulous independent radio program “Mrs. Green’s World”:

NPR interview on the Kojo Nnamdi Show:

Interview on NPR’s All Things Considered:

Interview on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Joy Cardin Show:

Interview on Culture Shocks with Barry Lynn:

Book excerpt in

Book excerpt in The Week:

Book excerpt on BoingBoing:

Slide show on The Huffington Post:

Article in Smithsonian:

Article in The Chronicle of Higher Education:

Article in April 2012 Wired:

Article in Scientific American:

Article in Stanford Magazine:
Available now at Powell’s – the greatest bookstore in the world:


Publishers Weekly (Starred Review):

Kirkus Reviews:

NewScientist Culture Lab top Spring 2012 book pick:

The Ecologist:

Library Journal:


San Francisco Bay Area, CA

Wednesday, April 25, 2012, 7:30PM

The Booksmith, 1644 Haight Street, San Francisco, CA

Thursday, April 26, 2012, 4:00PM

Hopkins Marine Station, 120 Oceanview Blvd., Pacific Grove, CA

Friday, April 27, 2012, 6:00PM

Garagiste, 439 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg, CA

Monday, April 30, 2012, 6 PM

Commonwealth Club, 595 Market Street, San Francisco, CA

Seattle, WA

Tuesday, May 1, 2012, 6:00PM

Town Hall, 1119 8th Avenue, Downstairs

Wednesday, May 2, 2012, 4:00PM

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, 1100 Fairview Ave. N.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Richard Hildreth permalink
    April 15, 2012 10:50 pm

    I am reading this book as part of the Executive Leaders Program at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security. Although I just started the book, I can tell from Chapter one I will enjoy the “Thinking” this will inspire. As a former elected official who learned that we must look beyond our typical views of Homeland Security and Disaster Management I support the concept we must be more adaptable in our approach to resilience.

    • sagarin permalink*
      April 15, 2012 11:47 pm

      So glad my book is getting read for the course and I’ll be out in Monterey at the end of April to talk about it. The ELP course participants have been a huge influence on the concepts as presented in the book. Thank you so much for your work and I look forward to continuing to share and learn from future ELP courses – Rafe

      • Richard Hildreth permalink
        April 16, 2012 1:55 am

        I look forward to meeting you. I am in that class.

        You may address this later in the book (I am on Chapter 3) but a point I have been making for years is about Climate Change.

        It has been my contention that regardless of what the cause of it is, we need to be looking at what Mankind is going to do to adapt (IE: Food Supply, different weather patterns, economic disruption etc.). We have both political sides argueing the reality and cause of it to death (and in my opinion it would be our death) instead of looking at what changes we will see, what the impacts on our personal environments will be and what we can do to mitigate or adapt to the new world.

  2. April 29, 2012 5:03 pm

    Really enjoyed your interview on WETS today. You should come and talk in our area sometime.


  1. Can Authoritarian Regimes be Climate Resilient? Not Likely | The Center for Climate & Security

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