Entrepreneurs

Billionaire Peter Thiel: 'Failure is massively overrated'

Failure is often credited for eventual success.

As Virgin Group founder Richard Branson writes, "It is only through failure that we learn." Self-made billionaire Sara Blakely goes so far as to say that failure is the secret to her success.

PayPal co-founder and billionaire investor Peter Thiel has a different opinion. "I think failure is massively overrated," he tells author Tim Ferriss in "Tools of Titans." "I think people actually do not learn very much from failure."

Peter Thiel of Founders Fund speaks at the 2013 Milken Institute Global Conference.
Patrick T. Fallon | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Peter Thiel of Founders Fund speaks at the 2013 Milken Institute Global Conference.

Thiel argues that, often, the cause of failure is too complicated to result in easily applicable lessons: "Most businesses fail for more than one reason. So when a business fails, you often don't learn anything at all because the failure was over-determined.

"You will think it failed for Reason 1, but it failed for Reasons 1 through 5. And so the next business you start will fail for Reason 2, and then for 3 and so on."

Plus, failure can be demoralizing and cause entrepreneurs to think smaller than they should, the billionaire said at a Harvard Business School event in 2014: "The lessons people draw from most failed startups is that it's impossible to build great businesses, so you then try something less ambitious, which is one of the other ways failure has a high cost. ... The belief that it is hard but possible to build up a great business is an extremely effective tool."

While failure may be overrated, it's still inevitable. But don't let it hold you back from thinking big, he advises. After all, as Thiel tells Ferriss, "If you're planning to do something with your life, if you have a 10-year plan of how to get there, you should ask: 'Why can't you do this in 6 months?'"

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