Staples founder Tom Stemberg started his own company only after he lost his job at a supermarket chain. Likewise, Michael Bloomberg had to be fired from Salomon Brothers before he launched the financial news service that made him a billionaire. These former pink-slip holders now employ a combined 53,000 workers. "Sometimes we need that extra push when a great idea is upon us, but we're too comfortable to pull the trigger," says George Burke, co-founder of BookSwim, a company that acts as the Netflix of books.

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