Learning to fail properly

Thomas Edison is a great inventor and an important figure in our history. Remarkably, his greatest asset (beyond innovation) was how he viewed failure.

Its been said that in his attempt to create the incandescent light bulb he experienced close to 10,000 failed experiments. Half way through his attempts to innovate this “miracle” light source, the local newspaper decided to write a satirical piece about Mr. Edison in an effort to depict him as the wacky and perhaps senile man whose failures to that point (close to 5,000 failed attempts at the time) have taught him nothing!

The local journalist asks Mr. Edison “After failing to create your incandescent light bulb 5,000 times, at what point will you realize that this innovation is simply an impossibility”

Mr. Edison responds in what perhaps is the most telling statement about his attitude to failure “Oh but you are mistaken Sir, I have not failed 5,000 times for I have discovered 5,000 ways in which the incandescent light bulb does not work!”

To Mr. Edison failure was a critical part of innovation because he viewed his failures as discoveries! They did not discourage him, de-motivate him or cause him to quit – this is evident by the remarkable number of failures he incurred not only in creating the light bulb but in every other innovation he had made from the Electrographic vote recorder, to the motion picture.

Thomas Edison knew how to fail properly. He understood how absolutely essential it was to fail, he accepted it, he embraced it but most of all he made sure that every failure was a stepping stone towards greatest.

We’ve all experienced failure at some point in our lives but the most telling trait about you is how you’ve responded to those failures.

Some of us are so adverse to failure that they are not willing to try anything or risk anything that might lead to failure. “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.” J.K. Rowling

I was one of those people, I felt that my life will only be defined by the successes that I gain and soiled by the failures I experience. I soon found myself doing nothing. I was not challenging myself; I was not growing or developing my capabilities. I simply existed day-to-day, taking refuge in my false sense of “success”. The key here is that I was not challenging myself.

To challenge yourself is to grow, and to grow is to fail! This is an inevitable reality, this is what Thomas Edison understood so well, failure is a basic and fundamental ingredient to success.

This principal is so important to understand because it applies to every part of your life both personally and professionally.

I have made a habit out of asking to be assigned to the toughest and hardest projects at work – projects that others were running away from! I can tell you for certain that there have been many times where I experienced failure, but I did not fail, I grew in ways that surprised even myself!

Never give up on yourself, keep pushing, keep battling! It’s not easy but the best things in life never are. You never know, maybe one day you’ll find yourself in the company of Success … but only if you hang on long enough!

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up” Thomas Edison.