by Tom Triumph, Featured Contributor
[su_dropcap style=”flat”]M[/su_dropcap]AYBE THE SECRET to success is to eat dog food. I never thought about eating dog food, but I know someone who did. It was what was necessary to keep his dream alive. You know who he is too.
There have been a couple times in my life when I had barely any money. During one such time, a friend surprised me and loaded up my refrigerator and pantry with groceries. That’s something you’ll never forget, and is guaranteed to make you want to pay it forward by doing it for someone else.
A young person typically has two imagined scenarios about people that are hugely successful. One scenario, is that the wildly successful person became successful because they’re “just awesome.” Meaning, they were pretty much born with a profound and immediately apparent capability, and the world beat a path to their door. The other imagined scenario is that the successful person reached greatness because they got extremely lucky. Like drawing the winning lottery ticket. Note that neither of the scenarios involves eating dog food.
Maybe, occasionally those scenarios are accurate. But so far I haven’t been able to find someone extremely accomplished who got there via those paths. If you know of anyone – please let me know.
To the contrary, everybody I know about who changed the world, did so despite a long list of failures and challenges. In fact, it seems everybody’s road to success was actually a rocky trail with countless switch-backs and plenty of rockslides.
Here’s a typical story… a guy takes his university entrance exam three times, before getting in. Then when he starts looking for work, he applies to 30 different jobs, and is rejected by all of them. One of the jobs was to work at Kentucky Fried Chicken, which by the way had 24 applicants, and KFC hired 23 of them… but not him. Finally he gets a job teaching English at a university in China for $12 a month. He says he applied to Harvard ten (10) times, always being rejected. “Nobody said that I would be a very capable person that would do something significant or meaningful in the future” he said. And that’s the short story of Jack Ma, who in 1999 founded Alibaba, and is now the richest man in China worth an estimated $25 billion.
Which brings me back to the dog food.
One of Walt Disney’s early jobs was at the Kansas City Star, a newspaper from which he was fired because of lack of creativity. Some years later in 1921 he started an animation company called Laugh-O-Gram Films, but eventually Disney had to shut the company down. It was during this period, that he could barely pay the rent and resorted to eating dog food. And then, things went downhill from there. In 1926 Disney created a cartoon character named Oswald the Rabbit and he visited Universal Studios the cartoon’s distributor, where he later found out that Universal secretly patented the character, hired Disney’s artists directly and continued the cartoon without paying him.
The world didn’t beat a path to the recognizable talent of Jack Ma or Walt Disney, nor did anyone hand them a ticket to success.
There are literally thousands of examples of people repeatedly failing before they succeeded. Here are just thirteen more examples.
1. Akio Morita
His first company was called Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corp, which came out with a rice cooker that burnt rice and ended up selling poorly. Rather than making knock-off products like many other Japanese companies, Morita wanted to develop quality innovative companies, and focused on a pocketsize radio. The best he could develop was just a bit too large for a typical pocket, so he had his salesmen wear shirts with oversized pockets so the radio would fit. Morita also foresaw the importance of branding, and changed the name of his company to Sony.
2. Elon Musk:
Musk poured all of his $200 million payout from Paypal into his next two companies – SpaceX and then Tesla Motors. At one point while teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, Musk debated if he should get rid of one of his companies so the other would succeed. He stuck with both, and the companies slowly made progress (through continual uphill battles). Musk and his team have accomplished the seemingly impossible, as both companies are revolutionizing their respective industries. Musk’s net worth is estimated by Forbes at $14 Billion.
3. Thomas Edison
His grade school teachers said he was “Too stupid to learn anything.” Yet he helped develop many inventions that ushered in the modern age, including the motion picture camera, the phonograph and a practical light bulb. Edison was also an extraordinary businessman who was an early advocate of mass production and teamwork in the process of innovation, with over 1,000 US patents.
4. Abraham Lincoln
Lincoln had his share of setbacks including failing in business, failing to get into law school, suffered from depression, being defeated for nomination to Congress and being defeated for nomination for Vice President. He continually kept moving forward, and was elected President in 1860.
5. Vincent Van Gogh
Van Gogh sold a single painting during his lifetime, yet he completed over 800 works. Once he gave a painting to a Doctor Rey as thanks for his services, and the physician then used the gift to cover a hole in the roof of his chicken coop. Today his painting “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” (different than the one mentioned above) has an adjusted valuation of $149 million. “A great fire burns within me, but no one stops to warm themselves at it, and passers-by only see a wisp of smoke.”
6. Theodor Seuss Giesel
Dr. Seuss’s first book “And to Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street” was rejected by 27 publishers. According to Geisel, he was walking home and thinking of burning the manuscript, when he ran into an old friend and classmate who helped him find a publisher. Dr. Seuss went on to sell 600 million books.
7. Stephen King
His first book “Carrie,” was rejected 30 times, so King threw it in the trashcan. His wife rescued the manuscript and told him to keep submitting. King has since published over 50 books, all worldwide bestsellers.
8. J.K. Rowling
At one point a single mom without a job, Rowling was living off unemployment benefits, had an unfinished book and two mouths to feed. She was rejected by twelve different publishers, and began to lose confidence in her book. Finally, Barry Cunningham, an editor at Bloomsbury Publishing agree to publish the book (in part because his 8 year old daughter liked the first chapter), though Rowling was admonished to get a day job because she wouldn’t make any money writing children’s books. She said, “Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebult my life.” Today, JK Rowling is worth approximately $1Billion.
9. Elvis Presley
The King hardly needs an introduction. Yet when Presley tried out as a vocalist for the Eddie Bond band, Bond rejected him with the advice to stick to driving “because you’re never going to make it as a singer.” Similarly, Presley was told by Jim Denny, the Manager of the Grand Ole Opry, “You aint going nowhere son, you ought to be back to driving a truck.”
10. Oprah Winfrey
Born in economically troubled neighborhood and raised by a single teenage mom, Oprah experienced considerable hardship, including being physically abused as a teenager. Winfrey is a media proprietor, talk show host, actress and philanthropist. Her net worth is $3 Billion.
11. Orville and Wilbur Wright
After several years of building kites and gliders (and numerous crashes), the brothers changed the world on Dec 17, 1903 when they broke the bounds of gravity and flew a manned heavier-than-air machine. And this was achieved by two men with no formal engineering training. The two brothers were originally inspired by a toy helicopter that their father brought home and flew around the room.
Orville took his father on what was his dad’s one and only flight. As Orville gained elevation, his dad enthusiastically yelled out… “Higher Orville, higher!”
When Neil Armstrong stepped onto the moon, inside his spacesuit pocket was a piece of fabric from the wing of the original Wright Flyer.
12. Soichiro Honda
Honda started a machine shop in 1937 to produce piston rings for Toyota, where he labored long hours and even slept in the workshop. To keep things going, he pawned his wife’s jewelry. Unfortunately, his product failed to meet Toyota’s quality inspection standards and was rejected. Rather than give up, he went back to school and kept working until winning a contract with Toyota two years later.
As steel was not readily available during the war, he collected surplus gasoline cans discarded by US fighters, calling them “Gifts from President Truman,” which he used as raw materials for manufacturing. Honda endured his factory being devastated by a bomb and then later being destroyed by an earthquake.
The gasoline shortage after the war resulted in people walking or riding bicycles, so Honda started modifying bicyles by attaching a small bicycle engines. Honda Motor Company ‘s revenue was $119 Billion in 2014.
13. Henry Ford
The first automobile Ford designed was the Quadricycle, which wasn’t fit for mass production. Then Ford founded the Detroit Automotive Company, which failed because Ford’s perfectionism got the better of him and he couldn’t stop tinkering. Ford had little to show for his work 18 months into the effort, and the company was disbanded.
Ford eventually started Ford Motor Company and built the Model A. The first batch had so many problems that Ford had to send mechanics throughout the country to fix the cars. The good news, the mechanics came back with ideas to improve the cars, and that knowledge went into correcting the future builds. “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”