Failure is hard. Coming to understand your failings and eventually getting back on your feet can be even harder. In this instalment of the Merchant Advance Capital blog, we will take a look at the recently released book The Upside of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success, which examines how and why people (and companies) fail, and what they can do to learn and profit from those failures as they move on to future endeavours. Author Megan McArdle (tweet her at @asymmetricinfo) has written for a range of notable publications and magazines including Newsweek, The Economist, Bloomberg and The Atlantic. She brings a confident, conversational and warm tone to the book’s material, addressing challenging topics (bankruptcy, the financial crisis, unemployment, and instances of incompetence and ignorance in situations from the newsroom to the lending market to the Challenger explosion) without excess gloom or gravitas, always remaining focused on the larger lesson to be learned from each of her many well-researched examples. The only misfire is a rather depressing chapter in which the author examines the aggregative nature of apparently minor or negligent failures in medical practice and process through the lens of her own mother’s sudden illness. Overall, McArdle’s diverse qualifications allow her to conduct a profound examination of the process of failure, as well as its psychological and socio-cultural underpinnings, in service of the idea that we need failure and its lessons in order to understand how to succeed. The Upside of Down‘s key observations will be of value to anyone in the small business workplace. McArdle believes strongly that the path to economic and intellectual growth in the world at large is increasingly forged by individual risk-takers: namely, those people who are willing to lay their hard work, dedication and capital on the line to start new businesses. Some of these, the Facebooks of the world, may have indelible and singular effects, and some, like the many independent small businesses we work with every day at Merchant Advance Capital, may create and help sustain economic growth and development on a less extravagant but equally impactful scale. Many business owners may, at some point, wonder if they’re a little bit crazy for trying to succeed on the path they have chosen: McArdle understands this, and urges us to consider that failure is not often the result of foolish people making bad decisions. Rather, it is an extraordinarily complex system, tied to our innate psychology and the fears we face which undermine our ability to creatively reroute around bumps in the road of life. Failure is a phenomenon with which we must learn to cope and co-operate in order to move forward with the planning and execution of our goals. McArdle urges businesspeople of all backgrounds to be creative and experimental above all, but also to recognize the elements of failure before they can reach destructive critical mass. When we fail, she argues that an immediate, consistent and conscious approach to problem solving is necessary to help us back onto the right course – in balance with an appropriate amount of leniency that helps us feel motivated to dust off, get back up, and try again with new or refined ideas. You have surely heard the phrase “learn from your mistakes,” but have you ever wished someone would offer deeper insight into what doing so really entails? With this fascinating book, Megan McArdle has given readers much to learn.
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