Is Failure the Secret to Success?

August 31, 2010

Look beneath the surface of many great business successes, and you’re likely to find a trail of failures that preceded them. Describing the painstaking trial-and-error process that led eventually to the creation of the incandescent light bulb – and General Electric – prolific inventor Thomas Edison said “I have not failed. I have merely found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Many people would have given up, but Edison was not afraid to fail.

Henry Petroski, in his classic book To Engineer is Human, says that in his field, failure is almost a prerequisite for success, because only by reaching a point of failure can you define the limits of possibility.

I am not sure I would interpret that idea literally for business ventures, but I do know that lots of stellar successes are built directly on a series of small failures.

British entrepreneur James Dyson reports that he built 5,127 prototypes of his cyclonic vacuum before getting to one that was commercially successful. That dedication to the Experimenter role is truly extraordinary, but so was the reward the now-billionaire Dyson eventually received.

Trial and error are usually the prime means of solving life’s problems. Yet many people are afraid to undertake the trial because they’re too afraid of experiencing the error. They make the mistake of believing that all error is wrong and harmful, when most of it is both helpful and necessary. Error provides the feedback that points the way to success. Only error pushes people to put together a new and better trial, leading through yet more errors and trials until they can ultimately find a viable and creative solution. To meet with an error is not to fail, but to take one more step on the path to final success. No errors means no successes either.

We live in a culture of perfection where we are so encumbered by fear (and fear of failing) that we simply don’t move forward. When as history proves – if we haven’t failed, we haven’t been pushing hard enough.

Failure. The mere thought can paralyze even the most heroic thinkers and keep great ideas off the drawing board. But is failing really that bad? We get an inside look at the mishaps of Honda racers, designers and engineers to learn how they draw upon failure to motivate them to succeed. From poor color choices to blown race engines, these risk-taking individuals provide an honest look at what most people fear most. Watch the film and discover the upside of failure.

How have you learned from your failures? Does failing really teach you about success. I would love to have your feed back and comment after you watch this short film.

To watch more of these short films, click here.

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