Sometimes an innovator hits on a great idea and succeeds at the first try, but usually it’s the result of repeated attempts, and learning from many failures including the failures of others. Where would Windows 7 have been without Vista? Where would the iPad be without previous tablets that showed the need for 10 hour battery life, and a finger-friendly interface? And would Office have become so simple and elegant to use it if wasn’t for experiments with Clippy, Microsoft Bob and the Multi-Document Interface?
This is not unique to technology. I thought I would highlight a couple of other examples where success only came as the result of repeated failure, but with an underlying conviction there was something great waiting to be discovered if only it could be done right. These kinds of lessons serve as inspiration to all budding entrepreneurs and innovators.
- If you have watched the Brad Pitt movie “Moneyball” then you’ll have seen a fairly accurate telling of the story of the 2002 Oakland Athletics baseball team. Based on the book of the same name (accurately subtitled “The Art of Winning an Unfair Game”) it tells the story of how the Oakland A’s, with a fraction of the budget of the larger teams, took a radical approach to selecting their team and won the American League West, setting a record of 20 consecutive victories in the process. (Sorry for the spoiler). The thing that most stuck me was how badly the team performed initially. The radical and controversial approach taken by general manager Billy Beane was to select low profile (and less expensive) players based on their statistics alone, using the Sabermetrics system to deliver winning results over the course of the season. Initially the results were terrible, confirming critics’ predictions that abandoning traditional scouting criteria would end in disaster. In the movie Brad Pitt (playing Billy Beane) is seen questioning himself as the bad results continue, but he sticks with the plan and refines the team and ultimately was so successful that many other larger teams adopted the same methods and went on to greater success.
- Widely regarded as one of the most innovative and revolutionary musicians to come out of Britain, or indeed anywhere, in the last 50 years, David Bowie’s early career for 10 years was unremarkable and at times just plain embarrassing (although, amazingly, this novelty single reached number 4 in the UK chart after Bowie became successful). He had a single hit with “Space Oddity”, released to coincide with the Apollo 11 launch, but further recognition eluded him while he continued to experiment with different images and on-stage personas looking for the right formula. Over two years later he finally launched his Ziggy Stardust character and became a glam rock superstar within months, with the platinum album being ranked as one of the top 50 of all time, and went on to many more hit singles and albums as well as acting roles.
Every successful endeavors has had days where its founders have doubted themselves and learned from failure. Without those lessons they might never have achieved anything. In summary I will leave you with the words of Thomas Edison: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
How does your organization turn “failure” into success?