February 22, 2011

What is failure?

By: jonnyjunction

“I’ve missed over 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’v ebeen trusted to take the game winning shot…and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan.

I am fortunate to be sometimes asked to give talks about entrepreneurship, venture captial, start-up finance and other related topics at universities and other forums. Frequently I will start my talk by asking the audience “what is success”? As you can probably guess there is no one true answer. Each person has a different definition of success and indeed each entrepreneur has a different perspective on what he or she views as success. Usually the answer is one of market cap, amount of profits, personal wealth that one generates and some other monetary figure. But even then, the exact figure varies pretty signifiacntly. For example for one achieving a net worth of $5 M is a huge success while for another this figure could be a mediocre or very moderate success.

By the way, some of the (very noble) answers I receive to the question above include generating employment opportunities for X employees for Y years, or generating capital flows and foreign investment into Israel. My favorite answer is the “perfect entrepreneur answer” which is making a positive impact on the world through my product or revolutioninzing an industry through my product etc.

It with this subjective issue in mind that I recently accepted an invitation to speak at a conference at one of Europe’s leading business schools. The conference is titled “The Advantages of Failure” and you can probably guess why this immediately caught my interest. If it is not easy to agree on a definition of success it is an order of magnitude harder to define failure in my opinion. But I have no doubt that there is plenty to learn from one’s failures. And if we can learn from our failures and implement these lessons when we next encounter a similar situation then I definitely view that as success.

I think that one (of the many) advantages that the Israeli culture and society has, is its tolerance for failure and its acceptance of “failure” as an experience that one can learn from, grow from, and benefit from. As a venture capital investor that knows that it’s all about the people, I always ask the entrepreneurs I meet to tell me about their backgrounds, their biggest achievements in life and failures that they have experienced. The answers and the lessons they have learned from this is an important part of my analysis and assessment.

PS - I am participating in the conference on Thursday the 24th of Feb (2 days time…) so if you have any comments or insights regarding the topic that I can share with some international MBA students that will be great.


  1. Lior Sion


    Totally agree that one advantage of a society is the ability to tolerate failure and learn from it. I’m not sure Israelis have it though: there’s a great tolerance to failures (I believe that this is because there’s always “something more important” or a “bigger picture” to look at) – but there isn’t much learning from the past – so I’m not sure how Israeli is a good example for that.

    This leads me to think that maybe the quality that we have here is just going forward, or maybe even storming forward in spite of failures. It doesn’t matter if you succeeded or not and it doesn’t matter if you learn from it or not – you want it, you go get it.

  2. Yotam Oron


    I have a very simple definition for failure:
    You fail when you stop trying.

    I am still trying …

  3. Jonny Saacks


    Yotam – you are absolutely correct. i agree.

  4. Gilad


    As someone has told me ” failures are the success’s tuition fee”.

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