The odds of any given venture succeeding are, of course, low. But it’s rational to invest $1 million in a business that will fail nine out of ten times, as long as the tenth time will earn least $10 million. Nye is talking about irrational bets: investing $1 million on a one in 50 shot of $10 million. An entrepreneurial culture encourages those crazy bets as well, and a few startups get lucky. We should, Nye suggests, think of ‘the entrepreneur as the valiant, but overoptimistic investor rather than the heroic seer.’
Entrepreneurship is not, in this view, a rational risk calculation. It is, as critics of capitalism sometimes charge, a bit like gambling. The few big winners are usually people who shouldn’t have bet their time, money, and ideas. They overestimated their chances of striking it rich. But they beat the odds — to everyone’s benefit. These ‘lucky fools’ create new sources of wealth, new jobs, new industries offering less-risky opportunities, and new technologies that improve life. Society plays the role of the casino, enjoying the spillover benefits from foolish bets.