Failure is Grief, but not Game Over

My co-author John Danner and I were recently interviewed in by Madanmohan Rao of YourStory Media.

In this interview, we discussed how failure lessons can be taught and interpreted, examples of leaders who share failure stories, cultural attitudes towards the other “f” word, and tips for startup founders on negotiating failure experiences and bouncing back to success.

Interview highlights:

  • notable new examples of failure learnings
  • some of the exacerbating factors that have made addressing the other “f” word in the government and nonprofit contexts particularly challenging
  • how to address situations as diverse as the founder who is too in love with their own product and the startup stuck doing a “perpetual pivot”

Edited excerpts of the interview below:

YourStory: What is your current field of research in entrepreneurship and the role of failure? 

John Danner & Mark Coopersmith: Between the two of us, both individually and also for programmes we run together, every year we address, teach, coach, mentor, invest in, and advise thousands of entrepreneurs and corporate executives. Almost all of them are seeking more innovation and growth for their ventures, which range from startups to global enterprises.

Some of the frameworks and tools are generally effective across the entire spectrum, while others are more specific to size and stage of growth. 

Taken as a whole, much of our work seeks to identify and categorise common patterns of success, and failure, in each of these arenas.

As members of the professional faculty at UC Berkeley, most of our work is based on practical applications and circumstances in the market, rather than traditional academic research.

YS: How big a role do academics play in entrepreneurship? Can entrepreneurship really be formally taught as you do in your courses, or is it something intrinsic in humans?

JD & MC: Yes, it can be taught – but in our experience how it is taught can be as important as what is taught. Our work cuts across the academic, startup, corporate innovation, investment, board, and other realms.

Even in our classes at UC Berkeley and Princeton, we employ real-world case studies, simulations, and activities to bring the Darwinian nature of Silicon Valley and most markets into the classroom.

We firmly believe that entrepreneurship is not a topic that can be effectively taught by readings and case studies alone.

For the insights, frameworks, processes, and tools to fundamentally “stick,” this is a topic that must be experienced at a deeper level, first-hand. Or, as we say it, with a “heads in, hands on, feet first” attitude.

In our most effective and immersive curriculum, our students form startup teams, develop a new venture concept, investigate it in depth in a target market, and undertake the real-world steps necessary to comprehensively develop the opportunity and advance it to the next stages.

In fact, coming out of our classrooms and these types of programs, we have launched more than 50 successful ventures from our “workshop for startups” curriculum, and related courses.

One of the most important elements of understanding entrepreneurship is developing a better understanding and skillset in how to manage risk from the perspectives of both entrepreneurs and investors. This concept of “derisking” plays a key role in our classroom activities and real-world assignments.

The more effectively an aspiring entrepreneur can understand how to derisk a venture (or pre-emptively “fail” before the market definitively fails them), the more successful they will be in deploying capital and other resources, and advancing their proposed venture. 

It is through approaches and methodologies such as this that we can help create better entrepreneurs in the programs that we run.

YS: How was your book received? What were some of the unusual responses and reactions you got?

JD & MC: This is a tale of two stages. Before publication, it was tough. One of the early responses we received from some of the publishers was “why would we want to write a book about failure?” Essentially we failed to communicate why failure was such an important topic.

Some publishers felt the topic was so depressing, that they quickly passed on the concept.

Fortunately, a number of others, including John Wiley & Sons – which ultimately published The Other “F” Word as one of their lead business titles – were sufficiently intrigued by and interested in our research, interviews and case studies, 7-step Failure Value Cycle, and recommendations, that we received multiple offers to publish our book.

Once our book came out, however, we’ve been delighted by the response. It became an Amazon bestseller, and we have been doing speeches, advising clients and working with students on this topic ever since.

We’re grateful for the broader acceptance of this important topic and pleased by our early role and voice in helping bring this about.

YS: Is there such a thing as the ‘ideal age’ for an entrepreneur, or can the creativity bug strike you at any time?

JD & MC: No age has a monopoly on either creativity or entrepreneurship. There are successful examples in almost every decade from teens to octogenarians. The important thing is to just get started whenever and however the spirit moves you…

Read the complete interview on Your Story:

Failure is grief, but not game over: Authors John Danner and Mark Coopersmith on how to put failure to work (link will direct you to our 2019 interview with Madanmohan on

In 2018, Madanmohan also published a review of our book. You can read that review at the link below:

Failure is the sibling of success: How you can tap failure as a strategic resource (link will direct you to Madanmohan’s book review on

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