Following on from my last post Fail to Learn, Learn to Fail, I’ve done some research into some famous business people to see how rocky their road to success was. I was surprised by a few names and fascinated by others, so I thought I’d share six of the best failures!
Today Disney rakes in billions from merchandise, movies and theme parks around the world, but Walt Disney himself had a rough start. He was fired by a newspaper editor because, “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” After that, Disney started a number of businesses that didn’t last long and ended with bankruptcy and failure. Legend has it he was turned down 302 times before he got financing for creating Disney World. He kept going with his mantra – Dream, Believe, Dare, Do and eventually found a recipe for success that transformed the dreams of millions of children and adults alike. Unfortunately he wasn’t alive to see his Walt Disney World vision become reality.
This Nobel Prize-winning, twice-elected Prime Minster of the United Kingdom wasn’t always as well-regarded as he is today. Churchill struggled in school and performed poorly. After school he faced many years of political failures, as he was defeated in every election for public office until he finally became the Prime Minister at the ripe old age of 62.
During Churchill’s political career, he made numerous decisions that would turn into failures. In the First World War, he led the troop who invaded Turkey in order to establish a southern link with Russia, which resulted into a complete failure and loss of many young soldiers from Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, ANZAC. In the Second World War he was chiefly responsible for taking over Norway and he was defeated by the German army. In spite of all the failures and criticism, Churchill is regarded as one of the greatest leaders and orators of the 20th century.
In 1953 he received the Noble Prize for Literature for the book ‘The Second World War’, In 1963, the US Congress granted him an honorary American citizenship. In 1940 and in 1949, the Time magazine honoured Churchill with the “Man of the Year”.
‘It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.’
Jo Rowling is a huge success on a global scale due to her Harry Potter stories, but before she published the series of novels she was nearly penniless, severely depressed, divorced, trying to raise a child on her own while attending school and writing a novel, which incidentally was rejected by 12 publishers before being published by Bloomsbury. Rowling went from struggling to survive on benefits to being one of the richest women in the world in a span of only five years through her hard work and determination.
Richard Branson has tried many different things in his life. He likes to compete and prove to bigger players that the smaller ones can indeed win too in business.
Virgin Cola, introduced by Richard Branson in 1994 as the rival to Coca-Cola, has practically disappeared. Virgin Clothes, launched on the stock exchange in 1996, folded with losses to shareholders, after debuting with promising new trends in providing more edgy wardrobe to the young. Virgin Money was launched with a viral and somewhat controversial advertising campaign, panned by critics with Richard Branson emerging naked from the sea, but did not deliver the expected big financial rewards to its shareholders. Then came Virgin Vie, Virgin Vision, Virgin Vodka, Virgin Wine, Virgin Jeans, Virgin Brides, Virgin Cosmetics and Virgin Cars – All the major brands who wanted to compete and earn a huge market share from established brands in those areas, failed to live up towards expectations.
He has lost millions upon millions, if not billions, over the years. Many people would have given up along the way. But he hasn’t allowed his failures to stop him from trying again. He has learnt from his mistakes and gone on to be extremely successful again and again. It is his willingness to give things a go that has seen him succeed. He sees his failures as a step to success.
Most people would come up with the name Albert Einstein, if you asked them to name a genius. Yet even for Einstein genius did not come easy. He had speech difficulties as a child and was once even thought to be mentally handicapped. As a teen he rebelled against his schools reliance on rote learning and failed. He tried to test into Zurich Polytechnic, but failed again (although he did very well in the mathematics and physics section! A few years later he had a PHD and was recognized as a leading theorist. A few years after that he had a Nobel prize for physics and began to be recognized as the genius of our modern era.
‘By fostering an environment where failure is embraced, even those of us far from our student days have the freedom to make mistakes — and learn from them still. No one is going to get it right the first time. Instead of being punished for mistakes along the way, learn from them. I fail constantly. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.’
While developing his vacuum, Sir James Dyson went through 5,126 failed prototypes and his savings over 15 years. By the time he made his 15th prototype, his third child was born. By 2,627, he was really struggling financially. By 3,727, Dyson’s wife was giving art lessons for some extra cash. Each failure brought him closer to solving the problem. It wasn’t the final prototype that made the struggle worth it. The 5,127th prototype worked and now the Dyson brand is one of the best-selling vacuum cleaners in the World.
Hope you enjoyed reading Six of the Best…Failures. I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes of the moment :
“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”
― Randy Pausch, The Last Lecture