I have not failed I just found 10000 ways

I have not failed I just found 10000 ways

The famous Thomas Edison quote: “I have not failed I just found 10000 ways that won`t work” is based on one of his biographies. Yet this quote is not his direct words but rather a reflection of the attitude the inventor took as he was performing his countless experiments.

That being said there is a place in Edison`s biography where the inventor has the following response to one of his associates.

Edison`s helper saw the countless “failed” experiments Edison attempted in order to reproduce a new type of battery. His associate tried sympathizing with him on the enormous work he has done trying without any results. The response he got was:

Why, man, I have gotten a lot of results! I know several thousand things that won`t work.

Thomas Edison

What does the quote mean?

There are a few ways to interpret this quote, unfortunately not all of them will be correct. The key to understanding it lies in how Edison used experimentation to achieve innovation.

The technique which was used was rather simple.

  • Set a goal in mind, let`s say to create a light bulb.
  • Draw a rough sketch in a notebook.
  • When you finished the sketch, start the experimentation.
  • Repeat thousand of similar experiments but never the same one.

So why was it done this way?

You see, the next time someone attempted to create a lightbulb they would not start from scratch. Instead they would look through the notebook, see which results were the closest to success, replicate and build upon that. Why reinvent the same failure countless times?

Does success come from failure?

Well that depends, does milk come from cows? Sure, but if you shout “milk” repeatedly at the cow, do you think the poor animal will hand you over a glass of milk?

This issue is rather prevalent today in our society, many pride themselves on failing at something countless times, shouting how failure will get them to success whilst repeating the same experiment countless times without adjustment. So what happens next? Well, they quietly give up or they announce that they have not failed just moved onto something new.

So then how would you get success from failure?

I am glad you asked, here are some steps to try out. Lets take a practical example and say you want to get a job in the area you studied.

  • Define what exactly you want to achieve.
  • Get accepted for a job position that you have qualifications for.

  • Narrow down to the simplest smallest possible version.
  • You cannot build something big until you have mastered all small pieces of it. Edison didn`t start from trying to put street lamps everywhere, he started just from a lightbulb. Let`s say your goal now is to focus on your CV.

  • Start by understanding the basics.
  • Edison did not become an inventor just by throwing a bunch of raw metals into an oven, changing the temperature and seeing what happens. Did you know that from a young age he was reading and practicing chemistry on a train. Yes, this is not a typo, the young scientist set up a laboratory on a train where he also worked selling newspapers. What this means for us is that we want to understand which skills the manager of a company might want to see on the CV. You need to demonstrate that you have those skills. It can be accomplished by either completing courses, creating a personal project, doing some freelance work or even volunteering online.

  • Create a bad prototype or the first bad attempt.
  • You cannot hone your skills forever, besides money may be running out, so as you are gaining skills from your side projects you must be applying for jobs.

  • Improve on your prototype until it gives you satisfactory result. (do not get stuck on perfection)
  • This is important, if you keep trying to do something and it does not work then you must lower your criteria for success. Hence if after countless of applications you cannot find a job that you want, try to pivot and find a job that has similar skills to what you want. Once you get accepted, work on transitioning into the job you desired all along.

Why failing is better than not trying.

Do you have dreams, goals, aspirations? Something you want to achieve at some point in future? Many would raise their hands in hopes to answer this question, a few would event leap up eagerly to share what they have planned to achieve. But let me ask you another question. How many failures have you already faced to achieve that very goal?

Now, I am not a believer that you can accomplish whatever you set your mind too. Although that sounds romantically poetic. When you phrase it like that, most people will not even bother trying, since if they fail, that implies there is a problem with their mind and not the unrealistic goal they attempted to undertake.

What I do strongly believe in is trying to achieve your goal, failing and once you exhausted all different possibilities, then pivoting. You see at some point you might have to come to terms that the plan you had for yourself will not come to pass the exact way you have envisioned it. Edison also struggled with this, insisting on supplying houses with DC (Direct Current) despite the much more superior alternative AC (Alternative Current) invented by Nikola Tesla.

So what can failure teach us?

We all fail the first time we attempt something, that is not something to be afraid of, quite the contrary.

You see the best way of learning is experience and what better way to gain experience than to experiment. However if you are afraid of failure, the embarrassment or disappointment that comes with it, then you will forever bury the unique genius inside of you. Or to put it in Edison`s words.

Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 per cent perspiration

Thomas Edison

So go out there, try new things, fail countless times and most importantly adapt to the feedback that you receive!