Failure is “Simulation for Success.” Tips for Creating a Favorable Environment

I think that the success rate of a project changes greatly based on whether you think of failure as the opposite end of success or as a development...

New article was published on Forbes Japan Online

I think that the success rate of a project changes greatly based on whether you think of failure as the opposite end of success or as a development process for success.

There is a famous quote by the inventor Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Edison said this when he was trying to develop the electric light bulb.

It is said that Edison had experimentally produced as many as some 2,000 bulbs in order to find a durable filament for creating long-life electric bulbs. He continued to search for a material that was suitable for the filament and after eventually finding a bamboo coal filament made from Japanese bamboo, he was finally able to invent a long-life electric light bulb that could be produced efficiently at a low price.

The material for the filament subsequently went through many improvements, with metal materials such as tungsten eventually being used, and the incandescent filament lamp became one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. Many years later, with the invention of the LED, which has very low heat generation and an extremely long life-span, many incandescent filament lamps are now being replaced by LEDs.

Failure Is What Has a Great Influence on Success

Recently, a series of films has been made about that time, including “The Current War” (2019) and “Tesla” (2020).

The former film describes the historic business battle between Thomas Edison, the master of invention, and George Westinghouse, a successful business man, over the first electric power delivery system to be used in the United States while the latter describes the glory and downfall of Nikola Tesla, the genius inventor who acquired wealth and fame by winning the current war against Edison.

Both films accurately replicate not just the technological competition but also the historic background, including politics and culture. Many aspects of the leadership battle between the pioneers who paved the way for the future of electricity, such as the flow of funds disappearing into development costs, public relations strategies, and connections and backroom deals with influential figures, are described.

As the films make us feel like we are watching business simulations that can be applied to today’s society, it may be interesting to watch them as one of the major events in industrial history.

What is interesting about these films regarding Edison and Tesla is that they had an initial image of what it would be like to be successful and they both took the approach of how to get closer to that state of success.

Both inventors developed street lamps, household appliances and the power generation network technology for changing the devices used at factories from steam-driven to electric-driven. Edison promoted a direct current system and Tesla used an alternating current system, but the world view they were trying to achieve was very similar.

As you can see from this, I think that having a clear image of what we want to realize becomes the driving force that enables us to continue making efforts without giving up even when we encounter repeated failures.

Also, the sense that the many failures one goes through until one realizes this initial image will greatly affect one’s subsequent growth is a valuable experience that only those who have failed can gain.

How many times did you fall until you could stand on your own feet when you were a baby? You must have fallen dozens of times trying to stand up and repeated these failures before finally being able to stand up.

There are animals such as horses and giraffes that can walk on their own legs right after they are born, but for human beings, it takes about a year just to be able to walk, and only after many trials.

However, it may be because of this formative experience that the image that “success can be achieved eventually through the repetition of failures” unknowingly takes root as a foundation in human beings.

When creating a new business or a product, we will probably never be able to succeed if we give up after one or two failures.

Of course, the reality is that we are unable to repeat failures infinitely because it is costly to establish a business. However, I think it is a good idea to try and try again by making good use of virtual simulations on your desk.

As Edison said, failure is all about destroying the case that “that approach won’t work.” By observing failures, we can find common points, derive unprecedented patterns from them, and try them out to increase our success rate.

Digital Environment Enables Us to Make Many Mistakes

Akira Kurosawa is a world-renowned master film director who is said to have waited for the clouds flowing in the wind to form into a shape that pleased him before starting to shoot a film. It is probably because of this obsessiveness that his films do not lose their appeal even after many decades and that they have had a strong influence on many filmmakers. I think this great “effort” cannot be imitated by ordinary people.

When making films in the old days, film sets were created to resemble the real thing such as actually constructing buildings that appear in the film or drawing the background on a standing signboard. At the end of filming, these productions were rarely kept and were normally discarded.

Nowadays, digital technology is heavily used in content production including films and it is obviously possible to freely create such buildings and backgrounds with computer graphics.

Also, by adding robotics to the digital technology, it is becoming possible to replace dangerous shooting using stuntmen with robots. It has therefore become possible for filmmakers to create stunt videos that are closer to live-action movements and more ideal than actual human performances.

As you can see, by utilizing a digital environment, it is possible to drastically reduce the number of production items and to create the ideal movements envisioned, rather than having actual people perform them.

Also, as production does not have to be achieved in one shot, the freedom of the production process increases greatly such as changing the lighting conditions a number of times and freely adjusting the atmosphere of the background. The time commitment of the actors will also be reduced, so there is also the advantage of being able to use the production costs more for enhancing the quality of the content.

In other words, as the digital environment is one where you can make a lot of mistakes, there is no reason not to incorporate this into business.

There are many extensive natural disasters in Japan and simulation technologies and visualization technologies concerning disaster countermeasures are advancing daily. For instance, if we are told the height of a tsunami in meters, it is difficult to grasp a sensation of this but if we are shown a video of the actual water level, we can correctly understand its severity and the importance of evacuation guidance.

It is likely that these simulations will make a great contribution in business. This is especially so at Japanese companies, as many management decisions still tend to rely on people’s senses such as experience, intuition and sometimes courage.

However, it will be possible to produce various forecasts and simulations by placing the company’s business environment in a digital space and utilizing new technology. By visualizing all kinds of possibilities before making the final management decision, it will be possible to consider things from more multifaceted perspectives and arrive at the correct answer faster.

If the answer can be reached without actually repeating failures, there is no doubt that these technical developments will greatly change the business environment going forward.

※This article was published in "Forbes JAPAN Online posted on October 11, 2021". This article has been licensed by Forbes Japan. Copying or reprinting without permission is prohibited.

Masayuki Chatani

Partner, CEO of KPMG Ignition Tokyo Inc.

KPMG in Japan

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