Trial & Error: What Thomas Edison Can Teach Businesses Today

The next time you turn on a light, give some thought to Thomas Edison’s view of all the trial and error that preceded his invention of the lightbulb and many other mainstays of the modern world. “I haven’t failed,” he said. “I’ve just found ten thousand ways that don’t work.”

Edison’s comment is very much in synch with one of the central principles of the Anticipatory Organization system. First, if you’re not failing, you’re not pursuing innovation. And when you do fail, rebound quickly and start all over again.

That’s the idea behind my powerful strategy: Fail Fast to Learn Faster.

Many Failures, One Success

Here’s a statistic that really brings home the interrelationship between failure and innovation—and further, the value of learning to fail quickly. Studies have shown it can take upwards of 3,000 ideas to produce one product or service that goes on to be a commercial success.

Not only does that bring to light the essential value of repeated failure to obtain a successful outcome, but also the benefits of failing quickly. For one thing, failing fast allows you to move on from that missed shot or lost match that much sooner. You can then get to the next effort, which, hopefully, will yield better results.

Moreover, it saves you from needlessly expending energy and resources on ideas and concepts that certainly don’t warrant that sort of loyalty.

“New” Coke: A Case Study in Fast Failure

Here’s another example that many of us are familiar with. Some 30 years ago, Coca-Cola made what a rash of headlines now refer to as its single biggest blunder in more than 100 years—the introduction of the so-called “new” Coke. Essentially a change in the basic Coke formula, the new Coke had a smoother, sweeter taste—similar to Diet Coke, but sweetened with corn syrup. Market researchers and pollsters were confident that the new version was a winner.

Not quite. Fans weren’t merely disappointed, they were outraged. So passionate were “traditional” Coke drinkers that they organized grassroots campaigns across the country to force Coca-Cola to bring back the original Coke.

Which the company did after only a few months. Admittedly, new Coke kicked around in various permutations for a few years thereafter, but, in reintroducing the Coke formula that diehard fans had grown up with, Coke essentially acknowledged that the new formula had been a major misstep—and moved on as quickly as possible.

One stereotype that many might associate with the fail fast/learn fast dynamic is the type of organization best suited to leverage that strategy. It certainly can hold true with start-ups—small, flexible organizations whose makeup seems ideally suited to shifting gears when some idea or project simply isn’t panning out.

But that’s not the entrepreneur’s sole purview. For instance, General Electric’s FastWorks program is an agile, quick-turnaround approach for developing products similar to the methodology used by start-up companies.

GE’s FastWorks: A Successful Case Study

Introduced by Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Immelt, the program is designed to encourage pervasive, ongoing innovation with an emphasis on quick pivots and adjustments once a project is deemed impractical or unworkable.

The results speak for themselves. FastWorks, according to GE, enabled the development of a new gas turbine in a year and a half, rather than the usual five years. In a 2015 keynote speech, Neeraj Vijay, CIO of GE’s Flow and Process Technologies, noted that the FastWorks program had taught him and his associates how to “fail fast, learn quickly and move forward.”

So, the next time you’re confronted with a new idea, product, service or anything that just doesn’t seem to be working out, ask yourself: Would I be better off failing, learning from the experience as quickly as possible and then moving forward?

If you’re ready to see the future and plan with greater confidence, you can order my new book, The Anticipatory Organization. It’s filled with principles such as fail fast/succeed faster and other great insights I’d love to share with you.

Watch the Reaction

Watch the reaction to Daniel Burrus’ Recent Keynote presentation.

Daniel Burrus has over three decades of being right about where things are going, which is evidenced by his long and diverse list of repeat clients. Daniel has worked with leaders from Fortune 500 companies, the Pentagon, and heads of State-delivering powerful insights and actionable strategies.

A ‘must-hear’ presentation.

Steven A. Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft

Your thoughts on how to create an opportunity for change through a customer focus is the excellence our team is striving for. The framework you provided on innovation, creativity and customer value will be instituted as a management practiceto enable the technology infrastructure group to take Wells Fargo to the next stage.

Victor Nichols, Wells Fargo

By applying Daniel Burrus’ principles to our business, in less than a year we have been able to double our revenues and increase the value of our company by a factor of four, and we feel the biggest impact is yet to come.

Arni Bellini, CEO, ConnectWise

Recent Work

Recent Work

When IBM launched IBM Global Business Services with their top 40 industry experts to plan a game‑changing future for IBM, the only outside resource they used was Daniel Burrus. (The meeting was a great success, and he has continued to work with IBM).

When Vodafone launched its Global Mobile Enterprise service to Fortune 200 companies, they chose Daniel Burrus to deliver the message to C-level Executives in multiple national events.

When Deloitte gathered leaders from China and SE Asia for a major forecasting event, they chose Daniel Burrus. (Based on the success of that event, Deloitte has changed their industry-forecasting model to incorporate Burrus’ Hard-Trend methodology.

A Master at Tailoring Presentations

A master at tailoring his presentations to the specific needs of your audience, Daniel is a futurist keynote speaker who identifies game-changing trends and strategies to help you:

  • Empower audiences to take positive action.
  • Separate the Hard Trends that will happen from the Soft Trends than might happen
  • Learn which current and emerging technologies will have the biggest impact on your industry.
  • Learn how to creatively apply these technologies to create strategic value and competitive advantage.
  • Anticipate Disruptions, Problems, Customer Needs and New Opportunities
  • Learn how to leverage the skills and talents within your organization in new ways.
  • Learn how to use new tools to change the rules of your industry with honesty and integrity.
  • Learn powerful personal strategies for shaping your future.
Daniel Burrus’ Speaking Accolades

Daniel Burrus’ Accolades

  • The New York Times named Daniel as one of the top three gurus in the highest demand as a speaker.
  • One of the Top 21 Speakers For the 21st Century by Successful Meetings Magazine.
  • He has been voted by his peers and clients as one of the Top Five Futurists and Technology Speakers every year since the award program started.
  • A member of the Professional Speakers Hall of Fame.
  • He has delivered over 2,700 keynote speeches on six continents to audiences from 25 to 12,000.