In his native UK, Sir James Dyson is known as much for his quirky looking, superior-functioning vacuum cleaners as for his long embattled path to commercial success. He gave Brits their first bagless vacuum in 1993 after 13 tough years tinkering in the tool shed. He slogged through 5,127 prototypes, a couple of lawsuits and dozens of rejections, and came within a whisker of bankruptcy. His hard work paid off, however, when the humbly named CD01 became the best-selling cleaner in the country within 18 months of its introduction
This quote is from an article in Costco Magazine featuring an interview with James Dyson, founder of Dyson vacuum cleaners and other innovative products. This humble beginning, supported by his wife’s income as an art teacher, and his determination to succeed made Dyson not just a globally recognized name, but worth more than £3 billion (USD$4.6 billion).
Thomas Edison was called “addled” and unteachable, trying a variety of jobs as he struggled to survive, struggles that helped him become a bit of a ruthless businessman as well as an inventor. He is quoted as having said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
His other famous success quotes include:
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
“Five percent of the people think; ten percent of the people think they think; and the other eighty-five percent would rather die than think.”
“Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”
“We often miss opportunity because it’s dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
“If we all did the things we are capable of, we would astound ourselves.”
“When you have exhausted all possibilities, remember this – you haven’t.”
“To invent, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk.”
“What you are will show in what you do.”
Recently, a participant in these Blog Exercises told me that they were too hard. “You should have warned us that these exercises involved work.”
Actually I did, but that’s not the point.
The web page, “They Did Not Give Up,” lists the early life struggles of many famous people. Developed by Professor Frank Pajares of the University of Kentucky, he was a scholar of social cognitive theory and psychology, using these examples for his students as a reference. Highlights include:
- 12 publishers rejected J.K. Rowling’s book about a boy wizard before a small London house picked up Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
- 27 publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’s first book, To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street.
- Albert Einstein did not speak until he was 4-years-old and did not read until he was 7. His parents thought he was “sub-normal,” and one of his teachers described him as “mentally slow, unsociable, and adrift forever in foolish dreams.” He was expelled from school and was refused admittance to the Zurich Polytechnic School. He did eventually learn to speak and read. Even to do a little math.
- Charles Schultz had every cartoon he submitted rejected by his high school yearbook staff. Oh, and Walt Disney wouldn’t hire him.
- Emily Dickinson had only seven poems published in her lifetime.
- English crime novelist John Creasey got 753 rejection slips before he published 564 books.
- Gertrude Stein submitted poems to editors for nearly 20 years before one was finally accepted. See . . . a rose is a rose.
- Henry Ford failed and went broke five times before he succeeded.
- John Milton wrote Paradise Lost 16 years after losing his eyesight
- In 1954, Jimmy Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, fired Elvis Presley after one performance. He told Presley, “You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.”
- In high school, actor and comic Robin Williams was voted “Least Likely to Succeed.”
- Jack London received six hundred rejection slips before he sold his first story.
- Louis Pasteur was only a mediocre pupil in undergraduate studies and ranked 15th out of 22 students in chemistry. In 1872, Pierre Pachet, Professor of Physiology at Toulouse, wrote that “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”
- Walt Disney was fired by a newspaper editor because “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” He went bankrupt several times before he built Disneyland. In fact, the proposed park was rejected by the city of Anaheim on the grounds that it would only attract riffraff.
Moral of their stories? It takes work, hard work, and many failures before you get it right, then you don’t stop. Success is just a step on the journey not the end of the story.
Trust me, a website is never done.
I’m not sure how Dyson tracked 5,127 attempts to make the perfect vacuum to his specifications, an average of 394 attempts a year, a little more than one prototype a day for 13 years, but apply these same work ethics to your site in these blog exercises and your perspective may change.
In an interview with Wired, Dyson explained the process:
An inventor’s path is chorused with groans, riddled with fist-banging and punctuated by head scratches. Stumbling upon the next great invention in an “ah-ha!” moment is a myth. It is only by learning from mistakes that progress is made.
It’s time to redefine the meaning of the word “failure.” On the road to invention, failures are just problems that have yet to be solved.
…There are countless times an inventor can give up on an idea. By the time I made my 15th prototype, my third child was born. By 2,627, my wife and I were really counting our pennies. By 3,727, my wife was giving art lessons for some extra cash. These were tough times, but each failure brought me closer to solving the problem. It wasn’t the final prototype that made the struggle worth it. The process bore the fruit. I just kept at it.
Dyson’s vacuums are numbered by version numbers, a new updated model introduced fairly regularly. The Costco article explained:
Dyson brings out new, improved versions of the vacuum year after year, rather than venturing into new product areas simply for the sake of it…Dyson’s vacuum product names have always followed a numerical series…with the occasional functional epithet (Multi Floor, Animal). Where other manufacturers go for a marketer’s idea of a product name, Dyson’s nomenclature brilliantly encapsulates the company’s sense of continual improvement.
Continual improvement. That is what a blog is about. It doesn’t start perfect or bad then end good or bad. It is an ongoing process. You learn, you grow, you change, you evolve…so does your site.
And so do these blog exercises.
Your blog exercise today is to consider how much work you wish to put into your site to improve it, to make it better, and revise your plans accordingly.
I do not ask this of you lightly. From the very first blog exercise, I told you that just like physical exercise, bloggers need exercise.
For the next year, I’m going to release blogging exercises five times a week. Some of these will be simple, some complex and require a lot of thought. You don’t have to do them all, but it will help you expand your blogging and self-publishing skills. There is no order to these and no penalty if you forget or skip some. Like all exercise, you get out of it what you put into it.
You get out of it what you put into it. What have you put into the process? Have you truly committed yourself to the process of making your blog special, unique, a voice for you and your interests, appealing to your audience?
If you haven’t, today is the day to reassess your process.
In “How to Know When to Stop Blogging,” I wrote 15 things to consider when deciding whether or not it is time to stop blogging. Among them was this:
If you are bored with blogging, or bored with what you are blogging about, or your blog writing bores you, it bores your readers. Stop blogging and find something else to do.
Remember, blogging is for everyone, but not everyone should be blogging.
If you aren’t putting the energy your blog deserves into your blog, it’s time to stop blogging.
To quote Thomas Edison one more time:
“There are no rules here – we’re trying to accomplish something.”
What are you trying to accomplish here? Are you willing to commit to 5,127 tries to get it right, then keep on going?