Whether starting, managing, or investing in a new business, I'm driven by two things: build it well, and gain a payoff. Hitting both targets, though, is tough. The government's Small Business Administration tells us that five of every ten start-ups fail in their first year.[1] Other sources put the number closer to nine or ten.[2] Reasons range from poor financing, to poor success in growing sales, to incompetent founders and management teams. In most start-ups, nothing is built, and no one sees a payoff.

The problem isn't limited to start-ups. Research shows that at least 50 percent of executives and managers in organizations fail within two years of taking on a new job.[3] Typically the organization ...

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