art, failure

Step 215: Famous Failures

My friend, Amanda, wrote a very brave post about “failure”, meaning she tried something that didn’t go the way she wanted it to. That post coincided with my reading about failing the Pixar Way – at the speed of change.

My brother-in-law, Kyle, really should start a career as an animator, or maybe an animation historian. He knows more about Pixar and John Lasseter than they know about themselves. After a long conversation with him about Pixar, I picked up two books about the company: Innovate the Pixar Way and The Pixar Touch.

Both books gives us the background of how Pixar started and innovated its way into the top animation house in the world, despite having no nest egg to fall back on. My favorite piece of Pixar trivia: John Lasseter ended up at Pixar when Disney fired him for voicing his support for computer animation to Disney’s senior leadership. They disagreed with him, he stood his ground, and then they let him go from his dream job, the only job he ever wanted. Lasseter left Disney severely disappointed and disillusioned. By all accepted business practices of the day, Lasseter failed.

Of course, the story continues, as stories always do, and in the end Lasseter, the classic underdog, won. He now runs Disney animation, the very unit that deemed him unfit as an animator under the Disney roof. A Hollywood movie in the making.

In Innovate the Pixar Way, authors Bill Capodagli and Lynn Jackson list other famous failures and the list bears repeating. Some I knew and sometimes surprised the heck out of me!:

1.) The fax machine was a failed invention in the 1840’s

2.) The copy machine was rejected by GE and IBM in 1937

3.) John Grisham’s first novel, A Time to Kill, was rejected by 12 publishers. It took him 3 years to write it, and Wynwood Press eventually published it. It went on to become a best-seller and a Hollywood movie that grossed almost $110M. A first edition of the book goes for ~$4,000 on eBay. (Fun fact – in business school I lived in a house down the road from John Grisham’s home in Charlottesville, VA! He spoke at my University-wide graduation.)

4.) Henry Ford went bankrupt 5 times

5.) Vincent Van Gogh sold only one painting during his lifetime

6.) Orville Wright was expelled from elementary school

7.) Michael Jordan once failed to make his varsity basketball team

8.) Oprah Winfrey failed as a news reporter

9.) Winston Churchill finished last in his class

10.) J.K. Rowling was a jobless, single mom on welfare when she wrote the first Harry Potter book. (Incidentally, Disney CEO Michael Eisner passed on making the Harry Potter series into movies – even Disney still makes bad calls from time to time!)

I wrote this post to remind myself that when failure comes knocking, and it inevitably does for everyone, I don’t need to despair. In failure, I have good company. Just ask John Lasseter.

The image above depicts John Lasseter with Lightning McQueen, animated star of the hit movie Cars. The film was hailed as a critical success and its global gross topped $244M.