What Thomas Edison Can Teach You About Failure

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work. -Thomas Edison

I love this quote from Thomas Edison. That’s because he’s talking about failure. Yes, one of the greatest inventors in the world is talking about failure, so why aren’t you? Being an innovative company, you’re bound to have some ideas that just don’t work. Not every idea translates into a success. And that’s okay.

Sometimes you fail spectacularly (remember New Coke?), while other times you’ll fail privately and no one but your company knows about it. However, it’s an important part of the creative process.

This is why it’s important to talk about your failures and what you learned from it.


Yes, you read that right. Sure, your prospects want to hear about your successes, but talking about your failures can be helpful too. But you have to put a positive spin on the failure. Talk about what you learned from the bad project. Explain how you revamped your internal processes after the product didn’t work. Give examples of how specific people or departments created new ways to solve the problem, and how things now work more smoothly because of it.

Reason 1 – Learn from your mistakes

If you don’t admit the mistakes, you can’t learn from them. If you think that companies only do this in private, take a look at this video from Domino’s Pizza from a few years ago.  The company was in the middle of a product revamp, and the customers weren’t happy with the changes. Instead of just leaving the negative comments out in the marketplace, they faced the comments head-on and told everyone what they were doing about it.

What’s great about these videos is that they not only talked about the failures of their products, they talked about what they were doing to fix it. You can do the same thing. Embrace the negative comments and see how you can fix your product.

Reason 2 – Change things up

In order to fix their problems, Domino’s had to change their products and their processes to develop them. Like this article from CBS News outlines, you can’t just look at the negative comments, you have to fix the problems. Analyze what went wrong, and then fix the problems. If you don’t know what went wrong, you’ll continue to repeat the mistake.

What I like about Domino’s failure is that they embraced the new ways customers were talking to them: through social media. If you’re using it to track your customers, then you better be using it to announce your fixes too.

Reason 2 – Create transparency with your prospects & customers

Where does Charity Water spend their money?For-profit companies can learn a lesson from the non-profits, where transparency with their donors can lead to more interaction and more donations. Charity Water, an organization that helps people around the world get access to clean drinking water, proves it on a map they’ve published on their website. It outlines the exact locations they’re working on. WWF Canada shows a few charts of where their money goes right on their website.

While I’m sure you’re not up to sharing at this detailed a level, how about creating transparency some other ways with your customers? Start a blog by your CMO or CTO to show off a human face to your company. List a few logos of your customers on your site (with their permission, of course.) Testimonials show a lower-level of interaction with customers that can help prospects see what  you could do for them.

Reason 3 – Finding the Reward in Failures

Technology companies can have a high rate of failures, but also a high rate of successes. In fact, a lot of their successes tend to be off-the-chart successful (see Facebook and Twitter), or become juggernauts quickly (see Google.) These same companies also have a high rate of failures too. See this article from the Harvard Business Review on the list of Google failures. What Google embraces is the idea of “failing forward”.

In fact, there’s a whole school of thought on failing forward, including FailForward.org, an organization that helps you do it. They understand that failure happens, and can help you move forward after it. So by embracing the failures and learning from them, you can create the proverbial lemonade with your lemons.

Ways to talk about your failures

If you’re ready to embrace your failures and talk about them, here’s how you can do it:

  • Create a series of case studies about your failures, and then the corresponding success story after you fixed the problem.
  • Get testimonials from customers that were helped by the product/process you changed.
  • Take snapshots of some negative comments on social media, and write blog posts responses to them.
  • Incorporate the failures/issues into your next product launch, and talk about it in your marketing campaign.
  • Invite customers who were affected by a failure to do a guest post on your corporate blog and then do a guest blog on theirs talking about the fix. (of course this only works if you fixed the problem, and if the customer is happy with fix.)

How else would you embrace your failures? Have you already done it? How did it go? Hit the comments and let me know.