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Alejadra Medina

But what happens if your team believes you so much in success that they become...lazy, or too confidence, or unable to see when things get difficult...its a very thin line.


Determination and confidence are always in favour of success so let´s go for change!

Guerrilla Billionaire

This reminds me of a story from a few years ago.

An engineer called me who had lost 11 years trying to raise financing for the most insane invention I had ever come across. I won't get into it here to protect his privacy but let's just say that it was an anti robbery system designed to really hurt the bad guys. And I mean physically. The lawsuits that would have resulted from that contraption seeing usage would have resulted in hundreds of millions being in awarded for injury.

We talked for about 30 minutes during which he told me how he had lost everything, including his marriage and savings due to this pipe dream. Towards the end of the call, I gently tried to have him consider dropping the project and finding a job. This went in one ear and out the other. His final words to me were, "Last week a millionaire friend told me to never give up. And that's what I'll do. Never give up!!!"

These are the stories you never hear about.


The true entrepreneur has to have a tremendous degree of motivation blended with empathy and an infectious optimism. Even when failure is vividly evident, he should be able to infuse the smell of success into his followers like a captain of a ship lost in the ocean does to his crew - that last piece of hope. Said that, promise without true potential doesn't help either. I believe that a class A entrepreneur is more adept in forecasting the battle strategy of his competitors than the success strategy of his own organization. He/she knows when to turn the corner and evade the bullet. Risk aversion has a tremendous competitive advantage - it instills the confidence by dodging failures!

Bob Sutton


You are on target. One of the biggest risks with this mindset is that leads to escalation of commitment to a failing course of action. I tend to think of management practices as like medicines and surgical procedures, they all have risks and they all have a downside. This is why banks have groups that pull the plug on loans and why start-ups and R&D projects have limited budgets.


Decide To Do Something That Will Probably Fail, Then Convince Yourself And Everyone Else That Success is Certain....just like the president and his war on terrorism, right??

E Gordon

Even over-optimism and RDFs cannot increase the odds of success sufficiently to move wild innovation out of the very high risk zone. That risk can be countered by potentially high rewards but the rewards approach has limits.

First, it is possible for someone to be a source of innovation and also be very risk averse - think of the high proportion of risk averse engineers. High risk aversion dampens the effectiveness of high rewards, so while we have stories about engineers leaving Fairchilds to start Intels there are more untold stories about engineers not leaving Intels to start Newertels.

Second, the rewards approach is easier to implement and sustain in start-ups and smaller organizations than in already-successful large organizations (for reasons already nicely desribed by prior bloggers). But it is large organizations that often have resources that increase the likelihood of making an innovation succeed.

Is this one of the reasons we see so many small innovative organizations (think early-stage biopharma company with a pre-clinical lead) get together with large resource-rich organizations that have trouble internally sustaining innovation (think big pharma with its clinical resources)? The people in the early stage company are those more prone to succombing to RDF while those at big companies are more immune. If this is so, it's nice to have different homes for different people, all adding their talents and efforts to innovation, each in their own way.

Bob Sutton


The passion and persistence, and ability to recruit others to help, are it. I think you got it.

Bob Sutton


I think you hit the nail on the head. The key is psychological safety. The best companies -- especially the most innovative -- have forgive and remember cultures. Most companies I work with, as you hint, tend to blame and demote, or otherwise punish, people who take risks and make "intelligent" mistakes. But the exceptions are interesting. Amazon is one, and I once did some work with a large publishing company that promoted and kept publically praising a woman who started a new magazine that failed because, to paraphrase, "She did everything right, there was just no market there, and she has the courage and skill to succeed, which we need for future ventures."

ann michael

Perhaps the reason why this weird idea works is that the optimist is passionate. Passion attracts support. If the optimist is also humble and learns from their mistakes, and others around them, then maybe they have a shot. Maybe the magic combination is a strong-willed but open-minded optimist with just a little "parental supervision".

David Maister

Bob, the ethical dilemma applies, as you hint, to employees within corporations as well. Innovative companies need their sacrificial lambs willing to take (sometimes unreasonable) risks with their careers.

This would be fine if companies had a high "forgiveness" factor, but as we are discussing over at, but the truth is that if things don't work out, companies tend to move people who take risks OUT rather than back to where they were.

That may not be the best strategy for companies trying to stimulate entrepreneurship.

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