What is a Successful Failure?

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m something of an expert on failure.  The fact that many of you have never heard of me until you read this supports my point.  But I’m not going for pity here, because I’m getting by pretty well.  It’s just that I’ve never been able to accomplish something really spectacular (I’m thinking like the Nobel Prize for Literature spectacular).

My philosophy has always been “Pursue your dreams, but have a backup plan.”  It seems I’ve always ended up on the backup plan.  Which is okay, it just hasn’t delivered any Nobel prizes.

Fortunately, failure has many advantages.  Everyone fails at some point, so I have plenty of company.  And you learn so much more from failure than success (so I should be really smart by now).

What set me off on this topic is Time magazine’s April 4th daily news brief, which included a piece entitled  “The 20 Most Successful Technology Failures of All Time” (http://time.com/4704250/most-successful-technology-tech-failures-gadgets-flops-bombs-fails/?xid=newsletter-brief).  Not only are all these ideas on the list considered failures, but they were pretty successful at the same time.  (Think about that a moment.)

Of the twenty, several caught my eye —

#14 Segway — “Perhaps no gadget evokes the early turn of the century like the Segway, a personal motorized scooter that riders control by leaning in one direction or another. Designed as a revolutionary new transportation option, Segways have largely been relegated to the realm of the mall cop and tour group. But for whatever reason, technologists never tire of trying to replace the well-proven movement method of walking around — The Great Hoverboard Craze of 2015-16 can trace its origins directly to this stand-up scooter.”

#5 Betamax — This was the original videotape-recording system.  I owned several, and still have a working model, along with a few Beta-format tapes.  The only consolation is that the VHS format is obsolete now, too.

#2 Blackberry — Who would’ve thought this would ultimately fail?  “Research in Motion, as BlackBerry was then called, sold more than 50 million of the devices in 2011.”  I guess that’s testament to how quickly technology changes.  Blink, and you’re a generation behind.

In case you’re wondering, Numero Uno is Napster.  But I never tried that service, so I don’t know how successfully failed it was.

All this proves is that old saying “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” is not true at all.  And this means the rest of us failures have plenty of important company.


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