When a scientist approaches a problem, he or she thinks about it using a tested scientific process. The steps in this process are: 1.) Purpose/Question; 2.) Research; 3.) Hypothesis; 4.) Experiment; 5.) Experiment; and 6.) Conclusion.
Once a scientist has researched his or her hypothesis, experimenting and data collection begins. Some results are positive and some are negative, but all of them are points of data that are collected and analyzed. The goal is to prove or disprove the hypothesis.
Along the way, there are many failures. And this is considered a natural part of the process. Each failure leads to a new hypothesis and a new experiment. Each failure binds together to form the ultimate conclusion, or success. “That’s exactly how a scientists treats failure: as another data point,” explains James Clear, an entrepreneur, in his blog.
“But this is much different than how society often talks about failure,” he continues. “For most of us, failure feels like an indication of who we are as a person. Failing a test means you’re not smart enough. Failing to get fit means you’re undesirable. Failing in business means you don’t have what it takes. Failing at art means you’re not creative. And so on.”
But failure is not the end result, as scientists teach us. Thinking more like a scientist would result in a path to success that had simple road bumps along the way. In fact, without failures, scientists believe successes wouldn’t happen.
Need some examples? Consider these famous examples of real failures turned major successes:
- Twelve publishers rejected J.K Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter fantasy book series, before getting the green light from Barry Cunningham from Bloomsbury, who agreed to publish her first book. Even so, he suggested she get a day job because there was no money in children’s books. The series ended up gaining worldwide attention, won multiple awards and, to date, has sold 400 million copies.
- The first animation company of Walt Disney, the man who gave us Disney World and Mickey Mouse, went bankrupt. He was fired by a news editor because he lacked imagination. Legend has it he was turned down 302 times before he got financing for creating Disney World. How successful is the Disney empire? The Walt Disney Co. had annual revenue of approximately $45 billion in 2013.
- Most people associate Albert Einstein’s name with genius, but he didn’t always show promise. Einstein didn’t speak until he was 4 years old and didn’t read until he was 7 years old. His parents and teachers thought he was mentally handicapped. Later, he became the face of modern physics and won a Nobel Prize.
- Vincent Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime – to a friend. Despite that, he kept painting and finished more than 800 pieces. Today, his most expensive painting is valued at $142.7 million.
- Movie Director Steven Spielberg applied and was denied twice to the prestigious University of Southern California film school. Instead, he went to Cal State University in Long Beach. Now he’s worth $2.7 billion and in 1994 got an honorary degree from the film school that twice rejected him.
- Theodor Seuss Geisel, author of “Cat in the Hat” and “Green Eggs and Ham,” was rejected by 27 different publishers before publishing his first book, “To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.” He ended up publishing 46 children’s books and is one of the most well-known children’s authors of all time.
- During Jerry Seinfeld’s first performance on stage at a comedy club, he looked out at the audience, froze and was eventually booed off stage. He went back the next night, completed his set to laughter and applause. The rest, as they say, is history.
- The Beatles were rejected by many record labels. In one famous rejection, the label said, “Guitar groups are on the way out” and “The Beatles have no future in show business.” According to the Recording Industry Association of America, The Beatles remain the best-selling band in United States even 50 years after their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.
Where would our society be if these men and women had let failure brand them as unsuccessful?
A negative result is never an indication that a scientist is an incapable or bad scientist. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Proving a hypothesis wrong is often just as useful as proving it right. Results are results and lead to better questions, which can lead to positives results.
“To paraphrase Seth Godin: ‘Failure is simply a cost you have to pay on the way to being right,’” Clear explains. “Treat failure like a scientist. Your failures are not you. Your successes are not you. They are simply data points that help guide the next experiment.”