Skip to main content
Move the World.

The paradox of entrepreneurship is that you can't succeed without maximal effort, but you can also give everything you have and still fail. Holding those two realities in your head — "I won't succeed unless I give it my all," "Giving it my all doesn't mean I'll succeed" — can make you a little crazy. Or maybe you have to be a little crazy to handle that dissonance. I'm not really sure.

But I do know that failing is a very hot topic among people who start companies and the people who invest in them. Is it categorically good to fail? Or is there a difference between good failure and bad failure? Are we fetishizing failure? What are the costs of failing? How do we bounce back after it inevitably happens?

Are we fetishizing failure? What are the costs of failing? How do we bounce back after it inevitably happens?

In This Week In Ideas, we’re taking a tour of the failure literature. Strap in and get your clicking finger ready.

"In the United States, talking about failure is something of a cottage industry," a New Yorker writer notes in a piece titled, "Fail Fast, Fail Often, Fail Everywhere."

"The type of failure we’re talking about is like how frogs lay 20,000 eggs so a few wind up as adults sitting on a lily pad sucking down mosquito dinners," explains a Newsweek scribe. That makes it sound almost like you have to fail. "Wanna create a great product? Fail early, fail fast, fail often," a FastCo writer advises in a piece about prototyping new products. "Fail by design," echoes a writer at the Harvard Business Review.

failureaggarticle
Failure is an ever present possibility for most entrepreneurs

More About

Catalysts
This Woman is On a Mission to Turn Beer into Food
This Woman is On a Mission to Turn Beer into Food
Catalysts
This Woman is On a Mission to Turn Beer into Food
Jacquie Berglund is using the profits from her beer company to buy organic produce from local farmers and distribute the produce to food banks in the area.
By Teresa Carey

Jacquie Berglund considers herself more of a wine drinker than a beer drinker, yet she is building an empire around the beer brand, Finnegans. When Berglund purchased the brand for only a dollar, she knew that if Finnegans were to make an impact, the beer needed to be in every pub in Minnesota. Now you can find Finnegans in four Midwest states. But Finnegans is more than a beer company.…

Innovation
Hacking Surfboard Fins to Fight Climate Change
Hacking Surfboard Fins to Fight Climate Change
Watch Now
Innovation
Hacking Surfboard Fins to Fight Climate Change
How can a surfboard modification help save the oceans?
Watch Now

He doesn’t surf, he doesn’t code, but he’s hacking surfboard fins to combat climate change and it’s working. Meet Andy Stern, citizen scientist and founder of Smartfin. He's brought together surfers and oceanographers to create a smart surfboard fin that's collecting vital data to track and fight climate change. As far as oceans go, the environmental crisis doesn't just affect the icebergs - it affects all of us. Surfers…

Innovation
Giving Animals New Legs
Giving Animals New Legs
Watch Now
Innovation
Giving Animals New Legs
Derrick Campana is a prosthetics engineer helping animals walk again with artificial limbs.
Watch Now

Derrick Campana isn’t your typical... anything. He’s a prosthetics engineer helping animals walk again - or walk for the first time - with artificial limbs. In the old days when an animal had a broken leg, they would often be euthanized--and only if they were very lucky would they wind up with a leg cast. Derrick Campana wants to put those days in the past. He’s creating prosthetics and casts…

Entrepreneurship
How San Francisco Residents Saved Local Businesses
How San Francisco Residents Saved Local Businesses
Watch Now
Entrepreneurship
How San Francisco Residents Saved Local Businesses
An indie book store went from struggling to thriving with a new business model. Is it the future of retail?
Watch Now

Borderlands Books is the largest English-language sci-fi, mystery, and horror book store in the world. Mission: Comics and Art is a combination comic book shop and art gallery. Both were preparing to close up shop in a tough retail environment as costs rose. Alan Beatts called a community meeting of his customers. A new idea came out of it - selling store memberships. After an outpouring of support, he sold…

The Student Laboratory Reinventing Food To Stop Waste
The Student Laboratory Reinventing Food To Stop Waste
Watch Now
The Student Laboratory Reinventing Food To Stop Waste
Inside the food laboratory inventing new foods to prevent waste.
Watch Now

As much as 40% of American food goes to waste — and much of that comes from companies. The food lab at Drexel University is helping companies “upcycle” unsold products into new ones and find ways to turn scraps or byproducts into great foods people want to buy. Students work with customers and products to create new ideas and products that the companies can produce with food that would otherwise…

Challengers
Meet the Startup Creating Incredible Virtual Realities
Meet the Startup Creating Incredible Virtual Realities
Challengers
Meet the Startup Creating Incredible Virtual Realities
8i takes video and converts it into virtual realities that are nearly indistinguishable from real life.
By Mike Riggs

8i takes video and converts it into virtual realities that are nearly indistinguishable from real life.

Challengers
How VR Could Change Your Life
How VR Could Change Your Life
Watch Now
Challengers
How VR Could Change Your Life
Virtual reality could alter the human experience forever.
Watch Now

Imagine if you could climb Mount Everest and go on stage at a Beyonce concert with your friends...before breakfast. Linc Gasking and his team of visual effects experts at 8i thinks they can make holograms of humans so real, that VR will go mainstream and they’ll alter the human experience forever.

Challengers
Three Reasons We Don't Have More Nuclear Power in the U.S.
Three Reasons We Don't Have More Nuclear Power in the U.S.
Challengers
Three Reasons We Don't Have More Nuclear Power in the U.S.
Many think of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island when they hear nuclear power. But nuclear's struggle to gain a foothold…
By Freethink Team

Many think of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island when they hear nuclear power. But nuclear's struggle to gain a foothold in the U.S. is more nuanced than isolated safety problems.

Challengers
Powering the World With Nuclear
Powering the World With Nuclear
Watch Now
Challengers
Powering the World With Nuclear
Transatomic believes they've figured out a safe, scalable, cost-effective way to power the world with nuclear.
Watch Now

Transatomic is designing a nuclear reactor that can produce a lot more electricity than a conventional reactor, while creating a lot less nuclear waste. But they’ll need to take on a deeply entrenched industry and convince a cautious public that they can safely harness the most powerful energy in the world.