Friday, February 12, 2010

No Experiments are Useless

"'But,' he told Harrington, 'it is of no consequence whether it worked or not. It was an experiment as I told you once before, not made to show but to Satisfy me that I was all right.' And he furthermore explained to Craig that although 'Mr H says that some of our experiments were useless...after he has had more experience in this business, he will find that No experiments are useless.' Edison recognized that failed experiments often provided important insights during the research process, but Harrington and other backers were interested only in positive results."
Paul Israel, Edison: A Life of Invention (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998), 61.
What seems to have set Thomas Edison apart was not a particular genius in inventing so much as a willingness to try. He had no fear of failure. He tried and tried and tried again. Failure simply became a building block for the future. While his financial backers might have struggled with his concept of failure because of their incessant need for results; Edison continued to plug away at his own pace and on his own sense of progress. I am amazed at how counterintuitive this is. Today's culture is every bit as 'positive results' oriented as his was and failure is never an option, especially when finances are on the line. How many people and ideas have been labeled useless simply because they were not immediate financial hits? The lesson here seems to be the need to press forward beyond those willing to abandon or deride you for failure. It is in those failed attempts that true success might be found.