There are a lot of motivational articles and images out there at the moment that look at the careers of some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs, and extrapolate their experiences as advice for all budding entrepreneurs – but perhaps some of this advice should be taken with a grain of salt.

I’m constantly being told that some of the key characteristics all these success stories; Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, all have in common is that they failed, they failed often but they never give up.

Taking this advice at face value, it seems all you have to do to be successful is to fail.

A lot of successful people have experienced failures along the way, but then so did Wayne. Wayne is a guy I know, he’s been a budding entrepreneur for the last 30 years, and he’s failed more times than any of them, and he’s never given up. He’s lost his family, his house and he’s probably drinking a bit more than he should, and what little he has left from his welfare payments end up being bet on the greyhounds, but he still dreams of making it big.

His schemes get more elaborate with each passing year, his new inventions of the 80s and 90s have now become new apps, new social media platforms, or sometimes just elaborate con ideas.

The point is you haven’t heard of Wayne, and you probably never will, for every successful entrepreneur that never gave up, there are probably a thousand Waynes that should have given up.

Failing, and being able to move on from that has happened to the best business-people, but it’s not an exclusive quality of successful people.

What’s the lesson here – that you should give up, that you shouldn’t fail? No, not all. But the life stories of these exceptional individuals and their businesses are far more complex than can be broken down into a simple formula for success, otherwise everyone would be doing it.

What other qualities do these business superstars have beyond failing along the way and never giving up?

  • Judgement – they actually have good ideas. They may have had some bad ideas along the way that failed and that they learned from, but ultimately it was their good ideas that succeeded.
  • Fulfilling a need – their products were innovative and disruptive, in some cases they even created new markets for them, but the products still fulfilled a need their customers had.
  • Smaller successes along the way – often the world changing mega products that gained their eternal fame followed on from a series of smaller successes along the way, mixed with some failures, rather than suddenly hitting pay-dirt after a long string of failures.
  • Support – they were able to build a team of great people around them who supported them but also provided feedback and advice. Sure some of these leaders were autocratic, some were fired from their companies from time to time, but in the end they didn’t go it entirely alone.

And that’s far from a comprehensive list of course. I haven’t actually worked out all the secrets of successful people, and that’s kind of the point.

Should would-be entrepreneurs aspire to impersonate their business heroes, or instead tread their own path?