Why failure IS an option


James Dyson
James Dyson: Image/www.dyson.co.uk

James Dyson, he of eponymous cyclone vacuum  fame, has just penned a rather good post in Wired Magazine all about failure.


In most instances we regard failure as a negative, a bad thing and something to be avoided.  In most instances failure is accompanied with a feeling not unlike being punched repeatedly in the stomach – you know that sickening feeling when your sports team loses or news that you have failed an exam or test.

Seldom do you see or hear people rushing into the street, jumping up and down, screaming in delight that they have failed. But Dyson suggests that perhaps we should re-evaluate our approach to failure.

On the road to invention, failures are just problems that have yet to be solved – James Dyson

And he has ample proof –  from the point at which Dyson arrived at his notion that a cyclone would be the best way to boost the suction of his normal vacuum cleaner to actually launching the product – there was a period of 15 years of constant tweaking design.

He made a whopping 5,127 prototypes for the DC01. The company is now on its 35th model.

The ability to learn from mistakes — trial and error — is a valuable skill we learn early on. Recent studies show that encouraging children to learn new things on their own fosters creativity. Direct instruction leads to children being less curious and less likely to discover new things. – James Dyson

Dyson’s point is a good one – you tend to learn a lot from your mistakes – but it’s not a new one.

American inventor Thomas Alva Edison was making the same claim almost 100 years ago, discussing his invention of

Thomas Edison: Image/Library of Congress

the lightbulb:


Results? Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward….

So perhaps failure is an option after all?





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