Are You Willing to Fail to Succeed?

Thomas Edison holding his invented lightbulb

Thomas Edison was one of America's most prolific inventors.  In his 84 years, Edison acquired a record number of 1093 patents and was the driving force behind such innovations as the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb, and the alkaline storage battery.  His humble beginnings as a poor, uneducated railroad worker to one of the most famous men in the world is a true American success story.

To be accurate, Edison didn't actually invent the idea of the light bulb.  In fact, electric lights existed on a streetlight scale before Edison became involved.  Edison is credited with coming up with the concept that made lights durable, affordable, and safe for home illumination.  He did for home lighting what Henry Ford did for vehicles--make them affordable and available to the common man and woman.

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration

Edison's process for inventing the right material for the filament of the light bulb is a lesson for all of us.  He and his team tested more than 6000 possible materials before finding the one that was the right fit: carbonized bamboo.  In other words, he failed thousands of times before he succeeded.  Too many times the majority of us give up to early when we don't succeed.

Great Leaders Come From Failure

Edison said, "I have not failed.  I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work".  He wasn't fazed by failure, in fact he knew a certain amount of failure was going to be required to succeed.  Many of today 's respected business leaders have failed before they succeeded.  Mark Cuban, before making billions selling his company to Yahoo, failed as a carpenter, a cook, as a waiter.  He said of his failures, "I've learned it doesn't matter how many times you failed.  You only have to be right once.  I tried to sell powdered milk.  I was an idiot lots of times, and I learned from them all."  Walt Disney was fired by an editor because "he lacked imagination and had no original ideas".  His original animation company went bankrupt and it's said he was turned down hundreds of times when he sought financing for Disney World.

Try Just One More Time.  Learning From Kids

The video below has recently been making the rounds on Linkedin.  This little girl is trying to make a box jump and fails over and over.  At one point she is near tears ready to give up.  A loving coach steps in and encourages her to try one more time.

This next video is of my two-year-old son, Gunner.  Gunner can be seen in the video below cooly riding and parking the bike he received as a Christmas gift.  What you see is the end product of hours and hours of trying, tears, frustration, crashing, and trying again over the course of three months (we've been at this since Christmas).

Don't Let Failure Discourage You.  Expect the struggle.

We as business leaders, parents, and employees should understand and embrace the idea that failure is not a bad thing--as long as we learn from it.  I'm not advocating going out there and intentionally failing. Rather I am advocating trying your best to succeed and understanding up front that not every idea or project is going to succeed.  Learn from your mistakes, expect struggle, expect the grind.  Expect to eventually succeed.

Scott Galloway