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Lesson #2: Learning is a Process of Trial and Error

Neither Moore nor Noyce were natural-born businessmen. They were scientists, people who felt more comfortable inside the walls of a laboratory than within the four walls of an office boardroom. They had spent the majority of their youth conducting science experiments rather than doing sales, playing with molecules and electrons instead of learning about contracts and markets. However, once the two decided to branch off on their own and create Intel, they knew that their success would rest upon how well they could learn by trial and error.

The process of learning by trial and error is something that both men brought with them from their childhood days. Both had grown up being shaped by scientific exploration, something which they believe is all too rare today. They asked questions, created experiments to answer those questions, and modified their experiments when things went wrong. It was with that same attitude that the two men approached their business as well. “Most of what I learned as an entrepreneur was by trial and error,” says Moore.

Moore says that like many other scientists and engineers who have ended up founding companies – and successful ones at that – he didn’t leave Caltech as an entrepreneur. “I had no training in business after my sophomore year of college I didn’t take any courses outside of chemistry, math, and physics.” Much like his career as an entrepreneur was by accident, so too were many of the business decisions and innovations that came out of Intel.

Looking back on their success, Moore admits that such a process of learning from your mistakes was probably not his ideal way to run a company, saying, “I think a lot of this really could have been learned more efficiently.” However, he acknowledges the large part it played in explaining their later success.

To entrepreneurs struggling to find their way in the market today, Moore calls the process “certainly exciting, and building a successful enterprise is satisfying and rewarding.” However, he is the first to suggest that wherever possible, one should try and take whatever advantages over one’s competitors as possible. To this end, Moore made the largest ever private donation to Caltech, saying it “could offer an opportunity to avoid the need for trial and error in a lot of this. Broadening the education to include some instruction in business – a little bit about finance and organizations – would certainly be useful, and I think a course in this direction would probably be a significant addition to the curriculum.”

Moore and Noyce were by no means instinctive entrepreneurs. Nevertheless, they didn’t let their lack of business knowledge prevent them from starting up their own. By being willing to take risks and learn from their mistakes, Moore and Noyce were able to become the driving force behind such technological breakthroughs as the microprocessor in 1971. Armed purely with their technological know-how and an entrepreneurial spirit, the two learned the ins and outs of the business by trial and error.

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