Failure is not a dirty word. The Edison Scale© Expanded.

Great email from a long time reader reminding me that I need to make sure to align what I know with what I am sharing. In particular, she pointed out, a link to my book on innovation as there are components within the book that apply directly to the Edison Scale© and while I was at making that connection to further explain the scale itself.

First off there are many levels within change and knowledge that occur that is why specifically the Edison Scale© focuses on Thomas Edison’s work on the light bulb. He found loosely in his words “X number of ways not to do it.” In my book on innovation there are two distinct areas to discuss here that are components of the Edison Scale©. Within each attempt at solving a problem and sharing information there are a number of reasons why that fails. In my book on innovation I talked about the three reasons that early innovation is stifled.

  • Commitment to Failure: There is a break point a stoppage when failure occurs. This allows for the innovator to stop and look at the problem differently. There are a number of potential actions here one is to change the initial agreement to one of the next two commitments and the other is to stop where you are, and put the innovation away for a while. Both of these are effective and will produce the desired innovation just at a different rate than originally projected.
  • Commitment around failure: Once failure is reached we often throw up our hands and bemoan the failure. In this scenario rather than a full stop the innovator is encouraged to find an alternative route. At some point the reality of this commitment may be that it drops back to one of commitment to failure or it may evolve into the last iteration of commitment.
  • Commitment through failure: Edison knew that light bulbs were possible, Ford knew you could build an assembly line, NASA knew a human being could be put on the moon and returned safely, well with the word knew in this case we are now looking at the reality of knew. Knew is believed. Believed is the commitment through failure. Apollo One exploded on the launch pad. They didn’t stop, well just long enough to mourn the three dead and move on.

The early trails that Edison, Ford and other’s had during innovation periods are critical here. One of the things that limits the ability of sharing is failure. No one wants to admit that the system they built had a series of failures that resulted in the system completion. So based on that the reality of inter-generational knowledge systems has to be the acceptance of the three failure rules.

It is ok to fail. It is even better when you take that failure, and share it. The organization that has a system of capturing when they fail will actually benefit everyone. You see, no one sets out to fail so if you know your idea has been tried before you know the ways that didn’t work. The initial phase within the Edison Scale© find out what didn’t work.

Find What Didn’t Work: This is a process of innovation and of inter-generational knowledge transfer that isn’t a stopping point for a project. This is a beginning. It is a conversation with the people that built the system you are to trying to improve. It is an open conversation that invites ideas. Beyond a brain storming session, it is truly a collaborative endeavor. Understand what doesn’t work. From my innovation book this is the innovators commitment to failure. From the Edison Scale© this is the willingness to listen to new ideas, and listen to why things didn’t work in the past.

Figure out a path forward: Our next concept is focused on how do we take this information we’ve discovered and apply it. Or, frankly how do we get past the points of previous failure. From the book this is the commitment around failure. We won’t let previous failure stop us. BY the way, this also slides into how we will deal with the way things were.

Communicate, evaluate and move on: Our last component is the reality of throwing away concepts. First off you don’t. At least you don’t throw away the ideas. You move them out of this project, this concept but you don’t get rid of them completely. This aligns with the last piece of innovation that of commitment through failure.

The three are simple but frankly any one of these three can stop any project dead. It doesn’t matter how good the idea is. Or what the potential impact of the idea will be. It only matters that these three are handled and managed. This represents the early points within the Edison Scale© where not talking to those who tried before, talking about what they did and listening to new ways and ideas will stop your project, dead.


Inventor, the Edison Scale©