The Up Side of Down | Megan McArdle

Summary of: The Up Side of Down: Bouncing Back in Business and in Life
By: Megan McArdle

The Danger of Creating False Realities

Journalist Dan Rather’s reporting on George W. Bush’s alleged Vietnam War absence exemplifies how we often seek to create a reality that aligns with our biases, causing us to overlook crucial evidence that may challenge our beliefs. This phenomenon is explained through modern psychology, which reveals that humans have a natural tendency to confirm their preconceptions and overlook contradictory information. To avoid this pitfall, we must strive to remain open-minded and impartial when processing information.


Embark on a journey to discover the power of failure and how it can lead to growth and success in both business and life. In ‘The Up Side of Down,’ author Megan McArdle delves into the importance of embracing failure and learning from missteps. You’ll encounter real-life stories and examples that illustrate how failures teach valuable lessons, such as the importance of putting in the effort over attributing success to innate intelligence, and how failures can lead to eventual success. With a growth mindset, you will realize that failures are both normal and surmountable, allowing you to bounce back stronger than ever before.

The Power of Graceful Failure

Fearing failure leads to a fixed mentality which causes individuals to take the easy way out. On the other hand, those who embrace failure with a growth mentality learn how to fail gracefully, leading to success in the long run. The difference lies in how failure is perceived – is it caused by innate talent or hard work and commitment? Those who understand that failure is normal and surmountable have nothing to fear and are able to learn from their mistakes.

The Folly of Predictions

Trying to predict the success or failure of a project before engaging in it is often futile. As showcased by the failures of the 1995 movie Waterworld and the marketing flop of New Coke, predictions and marketing research can mislead those seeking certain outcomes. Results only manifest when we put our ideas out there and test them in the real world. Therefore, our best bet is to experiment and learn from our successes and failures rather than rely on misleading assumptions.

Safety Systems vs. Failure

Our reliance on safety systems can result in unexpected failure. The Swiss Cheese Model explains how multiple layers of safety can prevent failure, but sometimes they are not enough. For instance, while numerous safety measures are in place to prevent car accidents, medical staff taking numerous precautions still results in thousands of fatalities yearly. Safety systems can delude us into a sense of invincibility, but we should always be aware that unexpected failures could occur at any time. In fact, the unpredictability of failure is what makes it so dangerous. While safety systems are necessary, it is equally important to be aware of their limitations.

The Danger of Denial

General Motors’ failure to acknowledge its failures ultimately led to disaster.

Human nature often causes people to ignore problems and deny reality, even when all signs indicate that disaster is imminent. This behavior is evident in the story of General Motors (GM), a company that once held half of the American automobile market. Despite its innovative products and highly-paid workers, GM lost market share over a period of 40 years. The company was presented with many problems that it did not address, including above-average wages, unexcused absences, and ballooning costs. Rather than facing these issues head-on, GM chose to focus on its past successes, such as the production of SUVs and expanded customer financing. However, rising oil prices and the skyrocketing cost of credit ultimately led to the company’s downfall. GM’s failure to acknowledge its shortcomings and take corrective action ultimately led to the company’s decline. This cautionary tale serves as a reminder of the danger of denial and the importance of facing problems head-on.

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