By Hussain Almossawi
When we look at some of today’s household names, we think of the innovative and creative entrepreneurs behind them.
We connect our Apple iPhones to our Tesla cars and get our news from Twitter. We see these companies as the epitome of what it means to be successful in the twenty-first century. But we fail to realize that revolutionary ideas often only stick after thousands of failures.
Innovation exists because there are problems. And it is the entrepreneurs who identify and try to solve these problems that are responsible for bringing about innovation. But behind every success story is a long list of failures.
James Dyson: A lesson in overcoming failure
Take the case of James Dyson, the founder of the world famous Dyson vacuum cleaners. Dyson wanted to solve the problem of inefficient bagged vacuum cleaners losing suction over time. This was a common problem that had gone unsolved for years.
Dyson designed and tested 5,127 prototypes over five years before finally cracking the code and creating a vacuum that worked. The result was the 1983 G-Force cleaner, a brand new vacuum system that became extremely popular with its initial Japanese launch.
The rest is history, right?
In reality, Dyson’s success was far from guaranteed. When he brought his innovative vacuum cleaner back to the UK, it was turned down by almost every major retailer. Why? It solved the problem all too well: the bagless vacuum cleaner was seen as a threat to the current business of the replaceable dust bag market.
Overcoming failure often means success, but it can also mean hitting another wall.
Undeterred, Dyson brought his product directly to consumers through his own manufacturing company. Now Dyson is a global household name and rather than relying on retailers, he built a direct-to-consumer business model that has disrupted the industry.
Dyson’s story reframes failure as opportunity. The same opportunities exist today for innovators around the world – if only we have eyes to see them.
Turning failure into innovation
1. Every failure offers a unique lesson in improvement
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Failure is not an option.” But in the world of innovation, failure is essential. To create something new, you have to be willing to fail – and fail often.
The key is to reframe failure as a learning opportunity. What went wrong? What could you do differently next time? How can you improve your idea? What element of your current idea could spawn a brand new idea?
When you start seeing failure as a learning opportunity, it becomes much less daunting. And with each new lesson you take yourself one step closer to success.
2. Your failures are a success story in the making
Can you imagine how James Dyson must have felt when his Japanese success story was initially a British flop? It would be easy to give up at that point – after all, he had already reached a certain level of success. But Dyson didn’t give up.
Instead, he took this “failure” and turned the page, starting a new chapter in his story. Forward momentum is key to reframing failure as potential innovation; see it as an opportunity to start over, rather than an indication that you should give up altogether.
Ask yourself what could possibly rise from the ashes of this failure? What new opportunity has been created? How can I use what I’ve learned to start something even better?
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3. Your first attempt may not be perfect and that’s okay
Nothing screams “failure!” like a first draft flop. Entrepreneurs see this every day: their first product or service is often not the great success they hoped for. It’s enough to convince many aspiring innovators to throw in the towel on their entire venture.
But the truth is that your first attempt doesn’t have to be perfect. Actually it shouldn’t be – remember you are trying to innovate here! The goal is to create something new and better than what already exists, not exactly replicate it.
Ask any successful innovator and you’ll probably hear the same thing: their first product was far from perfect. Their first idea may have been a product or service in a completely different industry. What matters is that they took that first step, learned from their failures, and kept moving forward, seeing potential in their imperfect idea.
The next time you encounter failure, don’t give up. See it as an opportunity to create something even better. You never know. Your first “failure” could actually be the stepping stone to your greatest success.
Reframing failure: It’s all about perspective
Entrepreneurs and innovators want to see their hard work turn into success. But the fact is, success rarely comes easily – it’s often the result of years (or even decades) of failure. The key is to have the right perspective on those failures.
When you reframe failures as opportunities for growth and improvement, they become much less daunting. And with every new lesson you learn, you take yourself one step closer to success.
So, the next time you encounter failure, remember these three things:
- Each failure offers a unique lesson in improvement.
- Your failures are a success story in the making.
- Your first attempt may not be perfect and that’s okay.
Perspective is everything when it comes to failure. By changing the way you view them, you can turn even your biggest flops into opportunities for innovation and success.
About the author
Hussain Almossawi is a renowned designer and innovator who has worked in various industries around the world, creating and consulting for companies such as Nike, Apple, Google and Adidas. In 2019, Hussain founded Mossawi Studios, a multidisciplinary design studio specializing in creating memorable, iconic and bold experiences. He is the author of The Innovator’s Handbook: A quick guide to unleashing your creative mindset.