The Value of Failure

Bounce by Barry Moltz, about startups and failureI don’t usually recommend business books to people because I am not a big fan of most of them. But I need to make an exception here. I want to urge people to read Bounce by Barry Moltz.

As someone who studies entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship for a living, I know that there is a big problem getting good information about the topic. Most start-ups fail, but people don’t like to talk about failure. So we have many more stories about start-up success than start-up failure, even though it should be the other way around.

Academics, like me, have written books that tell people the statistics about failure, but most people understand things better if they know both the statistics and the examples. So there’s a void out there. We don’t have a lot of good examples about start-up failure.


What I like most about Barry’s book is that it isn’t one of those feel-good-about-yourself-comeback-from-failure books that romanticize the notion of failure. As Barry writes, “The comeback is romanticized in society and totally overrated. This is a book about accepting failure as a normal part of the process, even when there isn’t something to learn. Failure that offers no real learning value jolts the business belief system. It is time for people to start telling their stories about these failures, which visit us all, without the redemption of any of the subsequent successes.”

Given that entrepreneurs are more likely to fail than to succeed, and even those that succeed have some failures along the way, it’s really important for people to figure out how to deal with failure. As Barry points out in the book, the typical kind of failure doesn’t result in the Rocky-movie-type redemption that most books on business failure discuss.

I’ve already put several examples from his book into my entrepreneurship class lectures. To me, his points about one-hit-wonders, the timing of failure, the random walk in business, decision making, and the rarity of the redemption-from-failure stereotype, are particularly important and worth the cost of the book.

But I also suspect that many people will be comforted reading about Barry’s failures, which he courageously talks about. After reading the book, I realized that my failures are nothing in comparison to Barry’s, and, human nature being what it is, that made me feel better about myself.

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About the Author: Scott Shane is A. Malachi Mixon III, Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies at Case Western Reserve University. He is the author of seven books, the latest of which is Illusions of Entrepreneurship: The Costly Myths that Entrepreneurs, Investors, and Policy Makers Live By. He is also a member of the Northcoast Angel Fund in the Cleveland area and is always interested in hearing about great start-ups. Take the entrepreneurship quiz.

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