Book Review: The Up Side of Down

up side of downMcArdle, Megan. The up side of down : why failing well is the key to success. Viking, 2014.

Anyone who is admitted to an elite university like Duke is successful.   Duke students graduate at the top of their high school class or undergraduate institution, and have positive experiences in their first employment opportunities.  Many Duke students have never experienced failure and would find it devastating if they did. A new book written by a Chicago MBA, a self-described spectacular failure, explains that mistakes are important learning experiences.

Business journalist Megan McArdle writes about the advantages of failure in her new book, The Up Side of Down.  She describes her failed summer internship at Merrill Lynch, and her failure to garner a permanent offer from the firm.  She accepted a position with a technology firm just before 9/11 and was laid off before her start date.  Eventually she accepted a lower-paying position as a journalist for the Economist, and grew to become an internationally known and respected business writer.

McArdle analyzes how decline happens in business, using companies like Solyndra and GM as examples.  Successful technology companies take calculated risks, using failure as a tool to grow the business.  McArdle also writes about mistakes in health care and in journalism.  Throughout the book, she explains problems with perception, such as the role of bias and loss aversion in reacting to a crisis.

Some reviewers take issue with some of the facts in McArdle’s book.  Fair enough. And in places, the material may be recycled from previous work.  But the writing is engaging and personal, interesting throughout.  Recommended.

© Reviewer: Meg Trauner & Ford Library – Fuqua School of Business.
All rights reserved.

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