03/09/2014 10:22 BST | Updated 03/11/2014 05:59 GMT

Innovation Comes From Trial and Error, Error, Error....

In this age of instant gratification and highly polished online experiences it can be easy to forget that behind success can hide a huge amount of hard work, and more than a few failures on the way.

Thomas Edison, the famous - in many ways the 'classic' - inventor was exceptionally quotable on the subject of innovation and the role that trial and error plays in the process. Here's just one of his quotes that's worth keeping top of mind when you're trying something new:

"I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."


A modern inventor who found fame and success, Dean Kamen, says "The unintended consequence of redefining success as lack of failure is that we quickly become so risk-averse." Kamen, inventor not only of the well-known Segway, as well as a wearable infusion pump, amongst other creations, believes that society is far too failure-averse. In a recent interview he explained:

"People are under enormous pressure, I think, to not fail," he says. "Parents don't want to see the pain of failure. The teachers punish you for failing. Your boss punishes you for failing. So people learn throughout their life gradually, to find all sorts of ways to not fail, which frankly is easy to do.

"But again, the unintended consequence of redefining success as lack of failure is that we quickly become so risk-averse and everything we do in life is only marginally better than what we did yesterday. Life is so short. We shouldn't waste any of it trying to do anything marginal."

From failure to success - the pivot

Failure, when a person has done absolutely all that they can do to succeed, is not a wholly bad thing. It can be a pointer to future successes.

Indeed, some failures are but stepping stones on the path to eventual success. In the technology industry, for example, a failure can quickly pivot into an unlikely success.

Many well-known businesses launched with one business model and when they hit a roadblock 'pivoted' to something new. Both Instagram and Twitter a great examples.

The former began as gaming and photo app 'Burbn'. Management realised it needed focus, and left the gaming function behind, launching Instagram. They were able to sell to Facebook for $1 billion last year.

Twitter originated as a service to find podcasts, named 'Odeo'. The founders couldn't beat iTunes and pivoted to the micro-blogging website we know today.

So when life brings you lemons, as the saying goes, make lemonade. Any business can learn from these examples and pivot their own business or technology with some careful thought and the willingness to be flexible. Sometimes this means stepping outside what you know, so an outside influence or a mentor could be invaluable to helping you see your situation from a new perspective.

As Edison also said, "Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That's not the place to become discouraged." And, "many of life's failures are people who did not realise how close they were to success when they gave up."

Wise words for the modern entrepreneur whether they are setting up their own business or tinkering in a shed, about to invent the next big thing to change our lives. Keep on, keep trying, and if you're sure you're stuck, seek a second opinion. A mentor could provide a new perspective that helps turn one more error into the success that makes it all worthwhile.