Failure University: The Diploma We All Need

By Shlomo Maital      


  In my latest column for the fortnightly magazine Jerusalem Report (Marketplace, Aug. 26 issue), I write about Failure University – how almost all successful people have massive failures in their track record, and how failure is a stepping stone to success, as Michael Jordan always said.  As the design firm IDEO says:  “Fail early to succeed faster”. 

   Here are two examples:  Dov Moran and Abraham Lincoln.

    Who is Dov Moran?  He is the Israeli inventor of the memory stick (also called thumb drive, or in Israel disk-on-key).  His company M-Systems was sold to San Disk for $1.6 b., an exit that made him wealthy.  Retirement?  Uh uh.  He then started Modu, which made the world’s smallest (and perhaps first) smartphone, only 3 inches long.  But Modu had a competitor called Apple (iPhone)….    And investors wouldn’t back him.   At 12 noon on a chilly November day in November 2010, Moran closed the doors of Modu.  But he was unemployed for only 30 minutes. At 12:30, he was already in his new offices, of a company called Comigo (TV/mobile interface), with some of his Modu veterans.  Moran, now 58 years old, still works 20 hour days and flies Economy to Japan, to show respect for investors’ money and “to hang out with my workers”.  Modu’s collapse led to at least 15 other startups, by Modu ‘alums’. 

    And Abraham Lincoln?  The man who led America out of the abyss of slavery, as the Spielberg movie shows brilliantly?  Here is his record of failure.   * In 1831 his   business venture failed.  * In 1832 he lost the election for the state legislature. *  In 1833   another business venture failed. *  In 1835 his future wife passed away destroying him.  * In 1843   his election  to Congress was defeated. * In 1848 Lincoln failed to win a seat in the Congress. * In 1855  he   lost the US senate elections.  * Trying for Vice President in 1856, he was defeated. * Another attempt to run for the state senate in 1859   once again failed.   * Against all odds, he was elected the 16th President of The United States in 1860.    All those failures tempered Lincoln’s stubborn steely resolve – he needed every bit of it to get the anti-slavery Amendment through Congress, after leading America in its bloody Civil War.

     In Silicon Valley, it is well known – if you have 3 failures on your record, VC’s regard you more favorably than if you have a clean record.  Same in Israel.   It does seem that what separates Michael Jordan (huge failures in his past) from lesser athletes, and great entrepreneurs from mediocre ones, is not genius, but resilience and perseverance. 

      Harvard diploma?  Great.  Failure U. diploma?  A lot better.