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Worthless, Impossible and Stupid: How Contrarian Entrepreneurs Create and Capture Extraordinary Value Hardcover – July 9, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press (July 9, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1422186989
  • ISBN-13: 978-1422186985
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #207,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Isenberg—academic, entrepreneur, and consultant—sets out to encourage readers to seek an entrepreneurial challenge, or what he calls “entrepreneurial choice,” because while entrepreneurship is extraordinary, it is nonetheless possible. He also aims to redefine entrepreneurship “in terms of value creation and its capture, rather than business ownership per se.” The author sees important consequences of his new approach to entrepreneurship as he devotes chapters to income inequality and entrepreneurship, government and its influence on entrepreneurs, and his belief that youth and inventiveness are not requirements. With a wide variety of case studies and his global experiences with entrepreneurship, Isenberg concludes with characteristics of entrepreneurs. These include awareness of their own capabilities, as well as the information or assets necessary to capture extraordinary value, all of which lead them to face adversity and assume widespread risks in creating something valuable that is missing from the marketplace. This thought-provoking book will contribute to ongoing debates in the education of future entrepreneurs, those young and not so young. --Mary Whaley


There is a guy called Daniel Isenberg -- Worthless, Impossible and Stupid is broken into four parts and ... I will be publishing some insights from each part. The book takes the reader on a fascinating journey around the globe with some of the world's most successful entrepreneurs. Their successes are explained in conversation with Isenberg, each laced with key lessons for budding entrepreneurs.This week we begin with part one, where Isenberg busts three key myths about who an entrepreneur is... I found it relevant for Africa's tech scene. Michelle Atagana Ventureburn, 6/28/13

“His advice is as applicable to entrepreneurs as it is to managers looking to shake up their departments.” — Most Notable Books List of 2013, Business Digest

“… Isenberg excels at breaking down the many elements that lead to entrepreneurial success.” — BARRONS

“a thought-provoking book about the contrary nature of successful entrepreneurs.” — Financial Times

“Isenberg effectively captures the varied landscape of new and innovative work, and inspiring stories and coverage of many different kinds of businesses fully support his premise.” — Publishers Weekly

“There is a guy called Daniel Isenberg — I don’t really know him but he is a big deal and writes and talks a fair bit about entrepreneurship. He’s written a book that I feel touches on some interesting points about entrepreneurship. Brad Feld, co-founder of Techstars, likes it so there must be something to it.” — Michelle Atagana, VentureBurn.com

“… a fascinating book… it will challenge your assumptions about what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur and provide valuable insights into why and how those who are successful made it work. If you've ever wondered what it takes to become a successful entrepreneur, you'll want to read Worthless, Impossible, and Stupid: How Contrarian Entrepreneurs Create and Capture Extraordinary Value, by Daniel Isenberg.” — Jeanne Destro, USA Today

“… there is an abundance of great nuggets of knowledge in this book as well as frank confessions about how hard it usually is to create truly great companies. That kind of intelligence is not worthless, impossible or stupid.” — The Financial Times

“provocative, insightful, inspiring, and fun to read.” — Choice magazine

“… presents a part motivational and part self-help guide for aspiring entrepreneurs.” — Book News

“In ‘Worthless...’ Daniel Isenberg shatters the following two misconceptions: 1. The myth of the stroke of genius: most value creation is produced at the level of what Isenberg calls “minnovation”: small and unexpected twists on existing ideas, business models or products and services. 2. The myth of the expert: experts are not always the best positioned to be innovative. A novice’s fresh perspective can help to overcome barriers and discover opportunities that experts may be blind to.” — Business Digest

ADVANCE PRAISE for Worthless, Impossible, and Stupid:

Brad Feld, Managing Director, Foundry Group; cofounder, TechStars; and author, Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City
Worthless, Impossible, and Stupid is a thought-provoking book for anyone interested in understanding the deeply contrarian nature of many entrepreneurs. It challenges the status quo definitions of entrepreneurship with substantive examples from all over the world. A must-read for building start-up communities.”

Jonathan Ortmans, President, Global Entrepreneurship Week, and Senior Fellow, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation—
“Daniel Isenberg’s bottom-up insights are a must-read for policymakers around the world racing to build smarter environments for starting and scaling firms.”

Esther Dyson, Chairman, EDventure Holdings—
Worthless, Impossible, and Stupid confounds the stereotypes. The book vividly illustrates that entrepreneurs don’t all look like Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg or Sergey Brin; they don’t all live in Silicon Valley. And most important, they do more than create start-ups that make novel products or solve problems; they build companies of lasting value.”

Jim McCann, founder and CEO, 1-800-Flowers.com and Celebrations.com—
“Daniel Isenberg manages to turn the words ‘worthless, impossible, and stupid’ into the highest form of praise by getting inside the minds of real-life entrepreneurs to explain how counterintuitive thinking (and a sometimes inexplicable indifference to failure) have helped create and often revolutionize global business.”

Yossi Vardi, serial internet entrepreneur—
“Daniel Isenberg’s book sheds a whole new light on the nature of entrepreneurship, of entrepreneurs, and of business opportunity more broadly. Original, thought-provoking, and fun to read, it blows up a lot of truisms about this important topic.”

Linda Rottenberg, cofounder and CEO, Endeavor Global—
“Calling all contrarians: If you’ve taken great risks, confronted skeptics and setbacks, and unleashed extraordinary value, you’ll recognize yourself in this important new book by Daniel Isenberg. Worthless, Impossible, and Stupid perfectly captures the ups and downs of the entrepreneurial path, felling a great many myths along the way.”

Calestous Juma, professor, Harvard Kennedy School; author, The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa
“This book is a real threat to conventional theories on business development. Its lessons apply in many other fields of human endeavor. Anyone interested in changing the world for the better should read it.”

Grégoire Sentilhes, CEO, NextStage; cofounder, G20 Young Entrepreneur Alliance—
“Like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, François Pinault, Diego Della Valle, and so many other great entrepreneurs, Daniel Isenberg is a contrarian and provocative thinker. Worthless, Impossible, and Stupid accurately demonstrates why being an outstanding entrepreneur is not about age, expertise, or reason; it is about vision, courage, and mind-set.”

Akin Öngör, former CEO, Garanti Bank—
“In this provocative book, Daniel Isenberg shatters stereotypes and clarifies the often misunderstood concept of entrepreneurship. His inspiring real-life examples prove that true value is often found where many can only see something that seems worthless, impossible, or stupid.”

Sir Ronald Cohen, cofounder and former Chairman, Apax Partners—
“Valuable, practical, and insightful, Daniel Isenberg’s new book is a very helpful and illustrative guide to the entrepreneurial journey.”

Maria Pinelli, Global Vice Chair of Strategic Growth Markets, Ernst & Young—
“Entrepreneurship is so important for a healthy economy: It creates jobs, supports communities, and builds a better working world. Worthless, Impossible, and Stupid provides a sophisticated and provocative narrative on this crucial topic.”

Nick Lazaris, former CEO, Keurig—
“Entrepreneurs take note. Daniel Isenberg makes his contrarian point clear in this provocative book: Entrepreneurs need to be as innovative in finding ways to capture value as they are in creating it. This will be good for them individually and for the society that benefits from entrepreneurialism.”

Mikko Kosonen, President, The Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra—
“Daniel Isenberg brings us back to the roots of entrepreneurship: It’s all about identifying, creating, and capturing value, in areas not seen by others and that may seem worthless, impossible, and stupid. But there are real rewards for the hard-headed entrepreneur—and for the rest of us!”

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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Easy and fun read with clearly laid out multiple examples.
Through the stories of a diverse group of entrepreneurs, the reader is exposed to how others have created and captured extraordinary value!
S. Cuffe
I would recommend this book to anyone who has ever considered starting or owning their own business.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Let's say that a Mount Rushmore type of monument for entrepreneurs will be constructed and nominations are requested. Which names immediately come to mind? Chances are, none of them would be among the several listed by Daniel Isenberg in the Conclusion section of his book, written with Karen Dillon. So what? In my opinion, a great deal. Most books about entrepreneurs focus on business celebrities such as Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Herb Kelleher, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Howard Schultz, Fred Smith, Ted Turner, and Mark Zuckerberg. They did indeed begin with acorns that became oak trees and do indeed exemplify what Isenberg characterizes as "the contrarian perception, creation, and capture of extraordinary value." However, Isenberg's book is not about celebrity. His focus is on a contrarian mindset and process he has observed in entrepreneurs he has personally known in 45 countries.

"Worthless is about how so many people from around the world see hidden value in situations where others do not. These people then use that perception to successfully develop valuable products and services that customers usually initially don't think they want, and ultimately go on to realize extraordinary value for themselves." So what? Isenberg's response: "A paradox: despite their statistical rarity in creating extraordinary value, most of the entrepreneurs in these pages will strike you as ordinary people like you and me. The differences between them and us are less a matter of who they are or what resources they have than of what and how they think.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By capamazon on August 13, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I like this book and found it useful. I recommend it.

I bought the Kindle edition of this book.

The Kindle opens up to an inside page (I forget which page, something like page 4 or 5 or so.) I think every Kindle book I've bought does this. I've often wondered why the do not open to the "cover" during the first "opening" of the ebook.

The cover photo is low-resolution and looks jaggy. The image looks as if someone picked up a dirty printed edition, creased it in half and then scanned it. Not sure if this is intentional or what. It looks wrong.

I winced while reading the third paragraph, which states "tough bloody s***." So what's the deal with this? Is this book about colon cancer? Hemorrhoids? The author quotes a businessman later in the book as saying this phrase. I would have found a better quote. It comes off as low-class.

"How this book came to be" is a subsection in the preface. It reads like what I'd expect to see in the "About the author" section and seemed out-of-place at the beginning of the book. "Israel" is mentioned 23 times in about five pages, which struck me as excessive.

Fortunately, once you get past the preface the book gets on track. Notes I took down include:
- entrepreneurship is the contrarian perception, creation and capture of extraordinary value.
- copying existing business models is great.
- ideas are one thing, but real value is in execution
- Innovation can be small yet profitable (Cinemex example)
- upscale folks as well as the poverty-stricken (surprisingly) customers can make one rich.
- You don't have to be an expert in a field to start a business.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jorge on July 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I am on the book and I know Dan personally through his authoring of the PACIV's HBS Case Study. With that said, how he is capable of depicting so clearly the navigation of one's inner self through the e-ship journey is mind-boggling. It proves that many elements of human behavior, as contrarian as they may seem, are more natural than we structurally think they are. As true as it is that our behavior is based on the context that we are in and as we can take the same concept to the business world and assume e-ship behavior is based on the business context and landscape in where it evolves, it is amazing how Isenberg communicates in plain English and in a fun way to read how that behavior and that context may not be so different from one place to the other, if you peel off a few onion walls...
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Alex Stovsky on July 10, 2013
Format: Hardcover
First of all i was surprised that this book is addressing every body, not just highly educated bussines men or entrepreneurs. It's written in a kind of english that is fun and easy to relate too.
But on the other hand it's and extraordinary book, that talks about extraordinary people with extraordinary stories.
Very inspiring , Just made me want to go and put all the ideas i ever had on to paper and see what can become some thing =)
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
"Worthless, Impossible and Stupid" serves as a stirring review of the global reach of entrepreneurship. Daniel Isenberg collected these fascinating case studies throughout an 11-year career at Harvard Business School. We get not only a review of the cases (which themselves are an intriguing mix, far from the usual trove), but also insight of how the discussions played out amongst his HBS students. It's interesting to see their perceptions vs. what these entrepreneurs faced in the reality of the market. Today, Professor Isenberg continues his career in entrepreneurship practice at Babson's executive program...an excellent fit given that college's long-standing position at the vanguard of teaching these disciplines.

The book's cases are living testaments to the contradictory nature of what he calls "capturing extraordinary value": that it's not the "hey, that's a great idea!" (i.e., the reactions you get from friends and colleagues) veins that you want to mine, because that's not where the value lays; rather, it's your ideas that are sloughed off by others for being -- as the book's title and mantra states -- worthless, impossible and stupid. If you see value there where others don't and -- key point -- you can execute, your contrariness can pay off in an extraordinary way.
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