Successful Failures

“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” Thomas Edison

Case Study on Leadership Failure: Thomas Edison

When you hear the name Thomas Edison, you most likely think of him as one of the most famous successful inventors of all-time. He was the inventor of the phonograph, motion picture camera, and of course, the light bulb. But you probably have never heard of the electric pen or the ghost machine (basically a way to try to communicate with the dead). He was convinced he could extract iron from ore and so he starting his own company. He was wrong and company failed and he lost everything.

But when we hear the name Thomas Edison, those are not the things we think of. It’s his successes that come to mind. Perhaps his greatest legacy isn’t even the inventions themselves, but the example he set for all of us in leadership. He was a man who failed but refused to be a failure. He saw the failed attempts as steps towards finding success. It took Edison 10,000 attempts to invent the light bulb! Take a look at these quotes from Edison and you will see why his legacy is one of success not failure…

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

“Negative results are just what I want. They’re just as valuable to me as positive results. I can never find the thing that does the job best until I find the ones that don’t.”

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to success is always to try just one more time.”

As you think about these quotes that truly defined Thomas Edison’s life, I believe here is the LEADERSHIP LESSON we learn from his life…

Failure isn’t an attempt that has failed but when we fail to attempt again. Success isn’t the absence of failed attempts, it’s the result of learning from and persevering through our failed attempts.

In 1941, Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister and wartime leader, gave one of the shortest but most valuable commencement speeches in history. He stood up and simply said: ‘Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never–in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force. Never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”

Last night I received a wonderful complement of my oldest son from his tennis coach. She said to me (after he lost a close match): “He isn’t the most talented player on my team but he always gives 110%, never gives up on a ball and wants to get better.” I drove home last night not really caring about the results of the match. I drove home as a “proud papa”, because this young man is learning what the path to success is all about.

It’s not a glamorous word, like innovator or visionary, but it is a practical and necessary word for the leader today to grasp… the word is PERSEVERANCE. Don’t let failure DEFINE you, let God use it to REFINE you! Don’t give up. But also, don’t miss the opportunity to learn the lessons from it. The apostle Paul who faced some failures in his own life put it this way in Philippians 3:13b-14 (ESV): “…forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” 

And as we do, the Heavenly Father, is our “Proud Papa”, who will honor our “stick-to-itness” and strengthen our feeble hands and hearts toward greater Kingdom success!

“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (1 Corinthians 15:58 NIV)


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