Great Innovations that Emerged from Failure

wazoku Blog

“I can think of no conceivable reason why an individual should wish to have a computer in his own home.” Kenneth Olsen – Chairman, Digital Equipment Corp, 1977

Following our recent blog post on the role of failure in innovation we wanted to expand on this subject by bringing you a few examples of highly successful inventors and entrepreneurs who experienced failure. You may still question the value of failure in successful innovation and we are not encouraging you to fail for the sake of failing but to be bolder and to attenuate your risk aversion.

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A considerable number of organisations and individuals still fear change and new processes.  In fact most of the time ideas are rejected and innovation is stifled on these grounds. Failure should not be feared – you can only learn and improve from it. Numerous innovation opportunities have been lost because of the fear of failing. The “We’ve always done it this way” approach is a barrier to progression and improvement.

Here is a short list of great entrepreneurs, innovators and inventors spanning different sectors. They failed in their first attempts at creating incredible businesses, products and services that have disrupted our lives:

  • Jeff Bezos is arguably one of the world’s greatest entrepreneurs and innovators. Amazon is an undeniable success yet Bezos and his business practically failed several times before Amazon became what it is today.

  • As a young man, Walt Disney was fired by one of his first employers because “he lacked imagination and had no ideas”.

  • Henry Ford’s first business ventures failed several times before the immense success of Ford Motor Company.

  • Thomas Edison was told by his teachers that he was “too stupid to learn” and he was even fired from his first two jobs for not being productive enough. As an inventor, Edison made thousands of unsuccessful attempts at inventing the first commercially practical incandescent light bulb, which eventually resulted in success.

  • Akio Morita was the co-founder of Sony. Sony’s first product was a rice cooker and a failure: it burnt rice rather than cooking it and sold under 100 units. Morita and his partners learnt from this failure and persevered to create the multi-billion company we are familiar with today.

  • Steve Jobs was fired from his position as head of Apple’s Macintosh division in 1985. He went on to found NeXt computer, but struggled to find the right markets and consumers. Its software division was acquired by Apple in 1997 and Jobs came back to Apple to resume his incredible ascension. In 2000 he was appointed CEO of Apple.

  • Bill Gates started his entrepreneurial career by founding a business called Traf-O-Data with Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, but it was unsuccessful. They went on to create an immense multinational corporation.

We’ll finish with this: In 1975, when Steve Sasson, the Kodak engineer who invented the first digital camera presented his invention to his management, he received this response: “That’s cute, but don’t tell anyone about it.”

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