I never failed once…
It was Thomas Edison‘s birthday last Friday (which I would not have known, save for an excellent Google logo (scroll to Feb 11th)), and a tweet from someone reminded me of a quote from him.
I’m sorry to whoever it was who tweeted, but I didn’t note who you were. I only saw it fleetingly, and it was not someone I follow. Bad Twitterquette, I know. I am ashamed. I have looked for the tweet since but cannot find it. To be honest, it could have been any of these people.
Anyway, here it is:
I never failed once. It just happened to be a 2000-step process
Thomas A. Edison
Quick disclaimer – although it seems widely agreed that he said this, it is often very difficult to say for sure. The sceptic in me would rather that I had a reliable source, but I don’t. So, if anyone out there knows of one, I would be most grateful.
Anyhew, it’s a great quote. It is often stated that failure is in fact an option. Many of the most successful people have failed several times, and rather than a career ending badge of shame it is actually useful. You learn, and every mistake you make is another one you can avoid in future. More than that – you are now ahead of millions of people too afraid to take the plunge in the first place. You may only be one mistake ahead, but you’re nearer to your goal than they are.
Thomas Edison went further though. This quote does not just remind us that failure is okay. It repositions failure as part of a larger process. In order to get to his goals, he states that part of the process is trying things out, failing, and trying something else.
Sometimes, I’m sure, that can be a fail and forget process – one thing you try might having nothing to do with the next option you try out. But it still means you’ve ruled a method out. That’s still a worthy lesson.
Other times, one failure leads to direct improvement. You failed to reach your goal, but in doing so learnt that you could get there by tweaking your plan or methods.
Again, as I have mentioned in previous posts, you can see the advantage in failing quickly (not recklessly). The quicker you dive in and make those 2,000 errors (and take the 2,000 lessons), the quicker you can get to where you want to be.
Imagine a situation where you are writing short stories for magazines. Are you better off spending a long time on refining one story (with feedback from friends and the writing community), or taking the lessons learnt and writing 2 more stories in the same time, making all new mistakes (not to mention stories).
Which method do you think will get you a story published quicker? Which one do you think will make you a better writer quicker?
To wrap up, I’d like to leave you with a few more quotes from Mr. Edison. Turns out he is one of the most quotable people ever. Again, I cannot be completely sure of the accuracy of some of these, but they are all a great inspiration nonetheless.
Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work
Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.
And of course…
Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.
Mr. Edison, I salute you.