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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.

About Christa Avampato

The short of it: Writer. Health, education, and art advocate. Theater and film producer. Visual artist. Product geek. Proud alumnae of the University of Pennsylvania (BA) and the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia (MBA). Inspired by ancient wisdom & modern tech. Proliferator of goodness. Opener of doors. Friend to animals. Fan of creative work in all its wondrous forms. I use my business skills to create passion projects that build a better world. I’ve been called the happiest New Yorker, and I try hard to live up to that title every day. The long of it: My career has stretched across Capitol Hill, Broadway theatre, education, nonprofit fundraising, health and wellness, and Fortune 500 companies in retail, media, entertainment, technology, and financial services. I’ve been a product developer and product manager, theater manager, strategic consultant, marketer, voice over artist, , teacher, and fundraiser. I use my business and storytelling to support and sustain passion projects that build a better world. In every experience, I’ve used my sense of and respect for elegant design to develop meaningful products, services, programs, and events. While building a business career, I also built a strong portfolio as a journalist, novelist, freelance writer, interviewer, presenter, and public speaker. My writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post,,, Royal Media Partners publications, and The Motley Fool on a wide range of topics including business, technology, science, health, education, culture, and lifestyle. I have also been an invited speaker at SXSW, Teach for America, Avon headquarters, Games for Change, NYU, Columbia University, Hunter College, and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. The first book in my young adult book series, Emerson Page and Where the Light Enters, was acquired by a publisher and launched in November 2017. I’m currently working on the second book in the series. A recovering multi-tasker, I’m equally at home in front of my Mac, on my yoga mat, walking my rescue dog, Phineas, traveling with a purpose, or practicing the high-art of people watching. I also cut up small bits of paper and put them back together as a collage artist. My company: I’m bringing together all of my business and creative career paths as the Founder of Double or Nothing Media: • I craft products, programs, and projects that make a difference; • I build the business plans that make what I craft financially sustainable; • I tell the stories that matter about the people, places, and products that inspire me. Follow my adventures on Twitter at and Instagram at


2 thoughts on “Step 215: Famous Failures

  1. My grandmother once said in a letter that the sin is not in failing, it’s in not even trying. I keep this letter close to my bedside and re-read it any time I’m needing a boost of confidence!


    Posted by Sara Walshe | August 6, 2010, 10:08 am

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