Last Saturday, Cindy highlighted a blog post by John Maxwell, a leadership coach, on how to fail successfully. There is much to be learned from our failures, and in many cases they are the price of admission to the victory celebration at the end of the journey. Thomas Edison is a fantastic, if complicated, example of success despite setbacks. We all know how many tries to took to make the light bulb a reality, especially because of the quote Cindy used to open her post:
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” - Thomas A. Edison
Learning to fail like Thomas Edison is a tall task indeed. I’ve been watching (and rewatching) ‘The Men Who Built America’ miniseries on the History Channel. It was a fascinating time in business history, with well-known names like Vanderbilt, Carnegie, Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan all facing off. Business was booming but it was also cutthroat, and almost completely unregulated.
One of Edison’s most damaging failures was not recognizing the talent of Nikola Tesla, one of the engineers working for him. Tesla became frustrated at what he felt were stifling working conditions, and left the Edison Electric Light Co. to work with George Westinghouse on alternating current – a direct competitor to Edison’s direct current. J.P. Morgan had put huge sums of money behind Edison, believing that he had no credible competition. That was their first mistake.
Edison made another costly mistake when he got involved in a project that experimented with electricity for human execution – the electric chair. He helped with the design, on the condition that they use alternating current, believing that the public fear would turn the market back in his favor. But the plan was a complete disaster – the execution failed horribly, and all the public remembered was that electricity was used and Edison was involved. The detail of direct versus alternating current was lost.
When you are playing the long game – aiming to win the war rather than each individual battle – it is important to remember that some of those failures will be more productive than others. If procurement wants to keep the organization’s focus on our overall value proposition, then our attention needs to be there as well. At the same time, each sourcing project or spend analysis effort has to be quality work that forwards the goals and objections of the business.
Getting distracted by entanglements that look like they will silence our critics can be a dangerous game, and may cause us to taking risky gambles on who will come out on top. I believe in this matter we must let Nikola Tesla have the last word…