06: For success, expect lots of failures

Today, innovation often feels called upon to apologise for the drain on resources it represents, and for the dangers it may bring. No wonder it just as often portrays itself as broadly predictable. [1] To gain support, it can pretend to be a smooth process, uninterrupted by false turns, intractable difficulties, personal clashes, or budgetary mishaps.

In fact, though, a single serious innovation is invariably preceded by multiple failures. There is no need to be sentimental about failure being a badge of honour in Silicon Valley, or to be fascinated by failure. [2] Success remains the objective worth striving for. Yet as America’s Henry Petroski has written, the lessons learned from disasters ‘can do more to advance engineering knowledge than all the successful machines and structures in the world’. [3] Over 1990-2009, its production years, even a $5 billion failed enterprise like General Motors’ Saturn division gave the car industry many lessons on what to do and what not to do in future. [4]