Thomas Edison is reported to have said, “I have not failed. I just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”
Another great quote comes from Drew Houston, co-founder and CEO of Dropbox who says, “Don’t worry about failure, you only have to be right once”
These are great quotes, tidy little sound bites. But their meaning is much more grandiose. It’s easy to say never give up, don’t worry about failing, and so on, but hard to live that philosophy. In today’s fast food culture where we all want instant results, there is very little time for failure. Failure is often viewed by the masses as final, requiring a total right angle change of thought. But as Thomas Edison showed, his “failures” were simply stepping stones along the way to success.
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That’s what we need to change when it comes to business philosophy (as well as personal, in my opinion, but that’s not my specialty). Let’s look a this another way. In science there’s this process called the “scientific method.” This method begins with a question. “I wonder if…” for example. The question gives birth to a search for answers, or research. That is then used to put forth a new theory or hypothesis. You then have to test it and share the results. Others will then reflect on it, do their own tests and learn from it. That learning is what creates new hypotheses, new tests, and new results. It’s the growth of an idea.
Many ideas die a quick a painless death. Others evolve into more complex versions of their original iteration that bear little resemblance to its original parent. Without creativity, without questions and without imagination, growth dies. They are required elements in the ecosystem of success. In business, we need those elements to give birth to new technologies and concepts that will give birth to others. That’s the evolution of business. Just like in Darwinian evolution, many changes aren’t planned but are random modifications that end up being better than the original. In business, these random ideas can be the result of brainstorming, or simply allowing employees to think outside of their role.
As in life, as in science, so we need to be in business. We need to be unafraid of trying new ideas. Business leaders need to be unafraid of promoting creativity in the work place, within limits of course. We don’t want to create a hippie commune, but an environment friendly to new ideas. We need to teach how to propose and develop new ideas in business that come from the ground up. From the front line to the back office.
And we need not be afraid of failure. A failed idea may give birth to new ideas that result in successes that its creator was unable to imagine. That’s the power of sharing ideas. The person who improves on an idea may have never had that original idea, but because we were unafraid to fail that idea was born and then shared.
That’s the evolution of success!