By Hussain Almossawi
When we look at some of today’s household names, we think of the innovative and creative entrepreneurs behind them.
We connect our Apple iPhones to our Tesla cars and get our news from Twitter. We see these companies as the epitome of what it means to be successful in the twenty-first century. But we don’t think about how revolutionary ideas often only stick after thousands of failures.
Innovation exists because problems exist. And it is the entrepreneurs who identify these problems and work to solve them who are responsible for bringing about innovation. But behind every success story is a long list of failures.
James Dyson: A lesson in overcoming failure
Take the case of James Dyson, the founder of the world-famous Dyson vacuums. Dyson set out to solve the problem of inefficient, bagged vacuums that lost suction over time. This was a common problem that had gone unsolved for years.
Dyson designed and tested 5,127 prototypes over five years before he finally cracked the code and created a vacuum that worked. The result was 1983’s G-Force cleaner, a brand new vacuum system that rocketed to popularity in its initial Japanese launch.
The rest is history, right?
In reality, Dyson’s success was far from guaranteed. Bringing his innovative vacuum back to the UK saw rejection from nearly every major retailer. Why? It solved the problem too well—the bagless vacuum was seen as a threat to the ongoing business of the replaceable dust bag market.
Overcoming failure often means success but can also mean hitting yet another wall.
Undeterred, Dyson took his product directly to the consumer through his own manufacturing company. Now, Dyson is a global household name, and rather than depend on retailers, he built a direct-to-consumer business model that has disrupted the industry.
Dyson’s story reframes failure as an opportunity. The same opportunities exist for innovators across the globe today—if only we have eyes to see them.
Flipping failure into innovation
1. Every failure offers a unique lesson in improvement
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Failure is not an option.” But in the world of innovation, failure is essential. To create something new, you must be willing to fail—and fail often.
The key is to reframe failure as a learning opportunity. What went wrong? What could you do differently next time? How can you improve upon your idea? What element of your current idea could birth a brand new one?
When you start to see failure as a learning opportunity, it becomes far less daunting. And with each new lesson, you bring yourself one step closer to success.
2. Your failures are a success story in the making
Can you imagine how James Dyson must have felt when his Japanese success story was at first a UK flop? It would be easy to give up at that point—after all, he had already achieved some level of success. But Dyson didn’t give up.
Instead, he took this “failure” and turned the page, starting a new chapter in his story. Forward momentum is the key to reframing failure as potential innovation; see it as a chance to start anew, rather than an indication that you should give up altogether.
Ask yourself, what could potentially rise from the ashes of this failure? What new opportunity has been created? How can I use what I’ve learned to start something even better?
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3. Your first try may not be perfect and that’s okay
Nothing screams “failure!” like a first-draft flop. Entrepreneurs see this daily—their first product or service is often not the runaway success they hoped for. It’s enough to convince many would-be innovators to throw in the towel on their entire venture.
But the truth is, your first try doesn’t have to be perfect. In fact, it shouldn’t be—remember, you’re trying to innovate here! The goal is to create something new and better than what already exists, not to replicate it exactly.
Ask any successful innovator, and you’ll likely hear the same thing: their first product was far from perfect. Their first idea may have been a product or service in a completely different industry. What matters is that they took that first step, learned from their failures, and kept moving forward as they saw potential in their imperfect idea.
The next time you face a failure, don’t give up. See it as an opportunity to create something even better. You never know. Your first “failure” could, in reality, be the stepping stone to your greatest success.
Reframing failure: It’s all about perspective
Entrepreneurs and innovators want to see their hard work turn into success. But the fact is, success seldom comes easy—it’s often the result of years (or even decades) of failures. The key is to have the proper perspective on those failures.
When you reframe failures as opportunities for growth and improvement, they become far less daunting. And with each new lesson learned, you bring yourself one step closer to success.
So, the next time you face a failure, remember these three things:
- Every failure offers a unique lesson in improvement.
- Your failures are a success story in the making.
- Your first try may not be perfect and that’s okay.
Perspective is everything when it comes to failures. By changing how you view them, you can turn even your biggest flops into opportunities for innovation and success.
About the Author
Hussain Almossawi is a renowned designer and innovator who has worked across industries around the world, creating and consulting for companies including Nike, Apple, Google, and Adidas. In 2019, Hussain founded Mossawi Studios, a multidisciplinary design studio specializing in creating memorable, iconic, and bold experiences. He is the author of The Innovator’s Handbook: A Short Guide to Unleashing Your Creative Mindset.