“I have not failed. I have successfully discovered 9,999 ways to not make a light bulb,” Thomas Edison once said this. Regardless of the controversy surrounding the invention of the light bulb, the merit of Edison’s venture is worth not only embracing but also celebrating. Edison’s perseverance can teach us an extremely valuable lesson about winning and losing, for it holds one of the keys to standing out in today’s competitive business world.
One thing Edison was definitely not afraid of was losing. More than a century later, his name is immortalized by the millions of lit homes, roads and cities he helped bring out of darkness back in 1878.
If this inspiring story tells us anything, it is that when people fear failure, they’re ‘dimming’ their chances of success. By failing 9,999 times before ‘getting it right’ on his 10,000th attempt, the legendary inventor and businessman proved that losing is part of the learning process, and ‘defeat’ is the only thing we should fear.
It might sound like unconventional wisdom, but smart and successful entrepreneurs, businessmen and company leaders often claim that winning is about embracing loss – lose faster so that you can learn quicker and win sooner, as they say.
This shift in mentality, however, requires a redefinition of success. You need to ask yourself, what does success mean to you? Is it about attaining a streak of wins, or about beating the obstacles that might stand in the way of that streak? Believe it or not, the answer to that question will define what kind of business person you are.
While contemplating that thought, it might be helpful to remember that basketball maverick Michael Jordan didn’t score every single shot. He in fact missed more than 9,000 shots and lost almost 300 games in his career. But over the long haul, he was a member of six NBA championship teams, won the ‘NBA Most Valuable Player’ title five times, and still holds the NBA All-Star Game career record for the highest scoring average. In other words, he has hardwired his unforgettable name into the brains of fans and established a successful ‘brand’ for himself over many seasons, rather than in a single game. The same can be said of all celebrated figures in every field and discipline.
Now, don’t get me wrong. A clear vision, careful planning and a matching actionable strategy are essential to any personal or business success. But even with those keys in place, an organization or an individual’s faulty perception of failure might jeopardize their success.
In fact, if you look at things with a pair of fresh eyes, you will soon realize that ‘losers’ are actually a force to be reckoned with. With the right attitude, ‘loss’ can turn from being a frustration to becoming a motivation. Think of losses as lessons to learn from, and wins as achievements to celebrate. Hand in hand, both will act as a springboard for success.
Interestingly, that’s not the only way ‘losing’ can make you a ‘winner’. The remarkable differences between successful people who never lost and those who did, are numerous. Winners who lost some of the ‘battles’ on their way to success are more resilient, fearless and adventurous. Accepting temporary loss as part of their growth path empowers them to boldly think outside of the box, test different scenarios and come up with creative solutions, adding to their ‘bag of tricks’ and becoming more business savvy along the way.
Not only that. They often have an incredible sense of pride in their achievements, as well as their journey to success in its entirety. Not so surprisingly, they’re often more inspiring role models, as through their experiences they teach others the right mindset, approach and business philosophy to adopt in order to follow in their footsteps of greatness.
Our industry is no different. No agency should expect to make a home run with every campaign or every pitch they embark on. It is just unrealistic. If any discipline needs to be able to recognize loss and adapt, twist, tweak and retry, that discipline is communication.
Essentially, success is about ‘having your cake’, but it is also about ‘making lemonade’. It’s about making the best of what you have, especially the experiences – both good and bad – that are bound to happen along the way. When you embrace that outlook, you become unstoppable and your success becomes inevitable. Or as Mark Twain would tell you: “Throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”