Fear and Learning in Entrepreneurship

Talk to most any group of up-the-corporate-ladder types and mention the word “failure” and you will detect an almost-audible gasp, because a mistake or setback is often a career-stopper, or, at least, a blot on the record. For these cube-dwellers, an aversion to risk and “don’t take a chance and playing it safe” is seen as an antidote to a mistake that can knock the corner office train off its tracks.

Yet, talk to an entrepreneur or an enlightened CEO of a company who sees innovation and creativity as the path to profitability and long term sustainability, and they will talk openly about failure, mistakes and setbacks as things that are just a part of that journey, process or path along the way to success.

Organizations, not just individuals, learn from mistakes or failure. Boeing became a success in the passenger jet market with its initial workhorse, the 707, by learning from the sometimes tragic mistakes of the Comet, the first passenger jet to be extensively used in commercialair travel. By studying metal fatigue design mistakes made in the Comet that literally caused its wings to fall off in mid-flight, Boeing engineered into its 707 the wingspan “flex” that is so common in aerodynamic airplane design today.

Thomas Edison, acknowledged as one of the post-industrial age’s most commercially-prolific inventor and innovator, and whose work laid the foundation of one of today’s most admired companies, General Electric, is well known, not only for his inventive genius, but also for his high propensity toward failure. Even after he had a long track record of commercial success, he failed miserably in “Edison’s Folly”, an attempt later in his career to revolutionize the iron ore processing industry, but kept trying for a dozen years until he finally found success in developing this industry process.

What we can take from successes stories like Thomas Edison is that the journey to success is a journey with many milestones--some are positive and productive and some are setbacks, mistakes and failure--it is not what we lose from the setbacks, rather what we have learned, and apply, to make the future a success.

About the author: Steven Stralser Ph.D. is a Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship at Thunderbird School of Global Management and author of the best-selling “MBA in a DAY: What you would learn at Top-Tier Business Schools if you only had the time!)” and developer of MBAinaDAY Online, the six-hour web-delivered e-learning program based on his book.

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I'd like to welcome Prof. Stralser, an expert and author on small business and entrepreneurship, to the Blue MauMau community. After reading his article, I am reminded of a quote from the world of sports:

"I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot... and missed. And I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why... I succeed." - Michael Jordan

Many small business entrepreneurs, including franchisees, whom I have known or interviewed have failed, only to later succeed.


A great article from Prof Straiser.  It reminds me of my favourite saying about those who ‘strive to be average .. and don't quite make it.'  In Australia we call them a ‘skirt' or ‘sissy' [a weak and/or feminine male]. Those who give 80% standout and those who give 100% standout as champions.  The measure of good operators is their preparedness to ‘have a go' and to learn from their mistakes.  We learn from what we do well and we learn more from what we screw up.  I don't want to employ people who won't ‘have a go'.

About 20 years ago I was told a story of a senior exec who had made a mistake that cost his company $8M.  When called before the Board of Directors he handed over his resignation.  It was not accepted and the Chairman explained that they had just invested $8M in his training and they were not about to sacrifice that investment.

‘Cube-dwellers' says it all and epitomises most bureaucrats and it certainly epitomises the Australian ACCC.


All governments have "cube dwellers". That's why in the USA, the ability to sue and right wrongs is so widely used, and available to anyone. There is NO ability to get lawyers to work on a percentage of the winnings in Australia. As a result, there is no access to the courts for defiled franchisees.

Contingency lawyer agreements must be encouraged in Australia, in order for lawyers to fulfill their ethical duty and represent the aggrieved and abused. Cube dwellers be damned!

I like the idea

of someone representing me on a contingency basis but I really have concerns about Australia flogging litigation for the sake of litigation and I fear that would be the outcome if our courts were taken over by a flood of contingency lawyers.  There is a place but we need better solutions.

I hope this is so after failing

Then I expect to see many future former zees  become successful in the future.  Even the baby boomers.  We may be going on cruises in wheel chairs but we will be successful.  You know the saying about people going on cruises?  You are either newly wed or nearly dead.