Success And Failure

We saw the Churchill film, Darkest Hour, yesterday. I loved it

It ends with a great quote, by Churchill of course, about success and failure:

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.

I think that sums up investing and entrepreneurship well. At least it does for me.


Comments (Archived):

  1. Mike Zamansky

    Sounds like most worthwhile endeavors.

  2. Paul M

    I always thought it was “….failure is rarely fatal…..” Pretty sure that failure as a rock climber or explosives disposal was often fatal.

  3. LE

    I was watching the Netflix on El Chapo (not as good as Narcos but still worth watching).I thought about how lucky El Chapo must have been (or any known drug kingpin) to actually live long enough to have a reputation and be infamous.Given the danger. And who they hang around and what they do. All of the literal bullets they must have dodged but survived. Meanwhile the ones less lucky but just as ‘talented’ that got killed. The inverse is people like JFK. Would there be bridges and hospitals named after him if he hadn’t gotten shot but lived and completed his term?

    1. sigmaalgebra

      Ah, withstanding all the shooting is not so amazing! When the last man is standing, the shooting stops!

  4. Rob Underwood

    First, Churchill is an incredible person, and I can’t wait to see the movie. On my dad’s side I am only 2 generations removed from the UK (Kidderminster), and on my mom’s side just one (Bradford) and we still have family there.Second, I want to believe that “failure is not fatal”. I think that is so in the “startup world”, and that’s what’s drawn me to shift careers to focus more there.But I also see all the vapid, LinkedIn, Ted Talk style self-help coaching posts about “failing fast and often (synergistically!)” that are directed at people more in the traditional corporate world than just in VC or entrepreneurship and I worry.In corporate settings, in 2017 where people are massively risk adverse and protective of their jobs, the way you rise to the top is never having a failure. Failure in those settings is indeed often fatal and I worry that young people get a head full of “fail often” that is appropriate for VC/entrepreneurship but fatal in of itself in i-banks, consultancies, and large corporations.At Deloitte, there was a partner who was my age and made partner when he was in early 30s. I asked him the trick to his success. He said “Never have a write-down. Never have a failure. Never have a black mark. Never get on a project that won’t be a winner.” That seemed very cynical at the time but the older I get the more I realize that failing, even once, is never an option at a big company. There it is fatal.

    1. LE

      I believe what you are saying is true. My drug kingpin comment also applies to corporate types. Many of the ones at the top are those that skillfully did not get shot and avoided bad luck turn of events as well. Yes that does take talent. And yes they have good qualities otherwise obviously. But maybe not the same talent that actually delivers a good product or is good in other ways vs. the less skillful politician or operator.The ‘ok to fail’ mentality is definitely a new twist that didn’t exist in the business world prior to the Internet when I got out of college. You failed and nobody celebrated that was like getting a F in class.

      1. Rob Underwood

        Many of the ones at the top are those that skillfully did not get shot and avoided bad luck turn of events as well.Exactly. That’s how you get ahead (in large settings), and that was definitely the case for the afore mentioned partner.Keep in mind too how risk adverse everyone is, especially in upper middle management, in nearly all large corporations. Middle management has to constantly figure out a way to stay relevant and not redundant. The way you stay around is not by taking risks but rather towing the line and staying on the right side politically.In fact, the entire consulting industry is premised on the concept of middle managers of middling intellect externalizing risk and their own personal political exposure outward to consultants. If a project fails, and you used a name brand consultancy, you can just pin the blame on the consultants and walk away clean. Consulting is really just an elaborate form of insurance and hence why so much consulting, especially strategy work, is just rubber stamping internal proposals and in the process externalizing the political risk out to the consultancies.

        1. PhilipSugar

          You are killing it today.

    2. sigmaalgebra

      That’s one of the reasons startups can attack big companies: I.e., the “suits” in the big companies will see what the startup is doing as risky so will want no part of the chance of a black mark on their record. And if the startup is to compete with the company of a suit, then the suit especially won’t want to touch the startup direction: If they do and fail, then they have a black mark. If they do and are successful, the everyone else in the company hates them.

    3. Matt Zagaja

      That being said some folks in SV fail because they don’t actually know what they’re doing. In a recent podcast Tim O’Reily quipped “Some people in Silicon Valley are more like actors than entrepreneurs.” which was amusing because as someone who has safely followed that culture from the east coast, it sounds true. They’re more skilled at spinning a story and raising capital than actually running a business. Many doomed to a fate similar to government software vendors: experts in the government procurement process and not in writing good software.

    4. JamesHRH

      Churchill was a pithy quite machine – what a font of wisdom.It’s important to remember that the people who say fail often don’t say that as career advice, but as problem solving advice.So, in your Deloitte context: get on a winning project, then fail fast and often ( in private ) to find the answers you present publicly.Corporate structure is about reliability.Entrepreneurship has no structure, so who cares about failing.Of course, the people w the $ telling founders to fail don’t take that approach to their funds – that would be naive and stupid.

    5. PhilipSugar

      We agree completely. You have heard me say I can fail three times and get it right the fourth before a BigCo Exec and they 17 people they all have trying to not make a decision in a conference room.However………An executive for Amex told me: “Phil if I screw something up I can shave $Billions off of our market cap”He succinctly said “firing is not a punishment enough” Therefore we cannot “fail fast” Which I think BTW: is a BS term because when you “fail you kill the ecosystem and your employees.I believe in learning from your mistakes. But as they say: If at first you don’t succeed…..skydiving is not for you.

  5. LE

    investing and entrepreneurshipInvesting is spreading risk and diversification and multiple bets while entrepreneurship is not. With entrepreneurship you generally pick one horse. Not always but that is the way most people roll (I don’t).

    1. fredwilson

      but both involve a lot of success and a lot of failure. thinking you’ve figured it out is bad. messing up isn’t.

  6. WA

    When the weight of a few words can move worlds.,.

    1. William Mougayar

      Yup. Churchill had weight…in every sense of the word 🙂

  7. William Mougayar

    Was the movie good? IMDB gives it a 5.9/10.I wonder if watching that movie or visiting the Churchill Warm Rooms in London is more impactful. We visited them about 10 years ago, and they are still stuck in my mind.

    1. pointsnfigures

      Those are a must visit if you are in London.

  8. pointsnfigures

    I can’t wait to see it. Some friends of mine were integral in setting this up:… Winston Churchill saved Western Civilization. I just read the book No More Champagne which detailed his finances. He was in “arrears” most of his life. He carried out a lot of the Prime Minister duties during the war while at the same time fighting off creditors and the tax man due to his poor personal financial management. It makes it even more amazing. Guess you have to have that sort of personality.

    1. Susan Rubinsky

      Jefferson died in arrears too. I wonder how many others?

      1. pointsnfigures

        A lot of the signers were broke upon death. They were risk takers. In Churchill’s case the reason he was a prolific writer was to pay the bills. He also worked hard for a favorable tax ruling to hang on to money. In 1942 before the tide of the war turned Churchill as extremely close to being so upside down he’d have had to leave office. Churchill took some enormous risks in FOREX markets and speculating in precious metal, ore, mining etc.

  9. jason wright

    it seems to me that a failure leaves no choice but to continue. a success can be where it all begins to go wrong for some personality types. be careful what you wish for.

  10. Conrad Ross Schulman

    You Cannot Reason With A Tiger When Your Head Is In Its Mouth.

  11. JLM

    .Churchill, half American, talked Hitler down when it came to invading Britain, made the American alliance work, and was voted out by the British after the war.He was a prolific author.JLMwww.themusingsofthebigredca…

  12. Thomas Luk

    Success…good move on! Failure…good move on!

  13. Julian Sardinas

    Great quote. Going through that now and trying to persevere even when the going is tough. Thanks for the daily emails! Very helpful.

  14. Raj

    I’m guessing that the film leaves out Churchill’s role in the death of millions of Indians as a result of his decisions that lead to the Bengal famine of 1943.Churchill is revered when he should be reviled.

    1. Sid

      Churchill was a racist imperialist. Directly responsible for death of millions of Indians in the worst possible way – death by hunger. Not so different than Nazi starvation of Jews in concentration camps.

      1. Spark

        He is a prime example of a racist revered in the west because of his world war II exploits. Just read his wikipedia profile about his views on Indians and their culture. He was also against Indians gaining independence. If he was an American he would support slavery. My guess is the movie did not cover any of this.

  15. sigmaalgebra

    That’s good. I’ll keep that one!Also back on January 17th, 2012 or so kept Kipling’s ‘If” as posted by jason wright at…

  16. Vendita Auto

    Churchill seemingly carried the anchors of Gallipoly and the family name. Think the driver in many is best summed up by Oscar Wild “Amibition is the last refuge of the failure”

  17. jason wright

    failure + time = success?

  18. Donna Brewington White

    Will definitely see this — thank you. The Last Lion is one of the most exhaustive accounts of Churchill’s life and work. After reading the first two volumes, I was bitterly disappointed to discover that the author (William Manchester) died before publishing Volume 3. Years after I had finally given up, was thrilled to discover, just recently, that it was published posthumously in 2013 with the assistance of Paul Reid. Hardcover version is 1053 pages. If the first two volumes are any indication, then well worth the time. Now, to actually find (make?) that time.

  19. Donna Brewington White

    Love that quote. Counting on it being true.