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How to Thrive on Serial Failure

by Trond Undheim

Pub Date: May 1st, 2020
ISBN: 978-1-64764-728-5
Publisher: Atmosphere Press

A business book on the nature of startup failure and success.

As this work begins, entrepreneur Undheim, who previously wrote Leadership From Below (2008), immediately tackles the age-old idea that success breeds success, citing a much broader and more flexible notion of what leads to success in venture capitalism and startups. In these pages, he seeks to differentiate between simple failure—in which nothing is advanced, no attitudes are changed, and nothing is learned—and something he calls “reflexive failure,” an entirely richer and more fruitful process. For failure to be instructive, Undheim writes, “it must have a deep cost in time and energy.” People shouldn’t seek out failure, of course, but they should seek risks, which can very often not work out as intended. The author urges readers to get a feel for the rules of disruption while always keeping in mind the potential downsides of both failure and success. Building a startup demands a lot of attention—“sometimes more [than] you have to give,” Undheim writes. “The risk is high. Is it truly worth risking your kids’ college savings? Your job? Your ability to pay the mortgage?” In clear, engaging prose, the author offers many specific examples; the sheer number of unsuccessful startups mentioned in these pages is, in its own strange way, curiously uplifting. There’s also plenty of insightful generalization, as when the author reminds readers, for instance, that the process of innovation isn’t simply mechanistic, because businesses are social systems governed by many interlocking forces. Undheim’s book is very clearly not for beginners, but experienced venture capitalists will find much of his outside-the-box thinking to be thought-provoking.

An intriguing learn-from-failure investment manual with a hard-edged practical side.