How to Succeed In Business by Really Trying


There is a quote from Thomas Edison who said after inventing the light bulb, “Genius is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

This quote was apparently meant to praise determination and diligence and to ignore failure. It’s a good thing for Edison that he worked for himself. Edison’s rival in business at the time, Nikola Tesla (the brilliant physicist and inventor) replied to Edison’s statement, “Mr. Edison would not have to perspire so much if he prepared better.”

This is both funny and true. Tesla was excellent at theorizing, designing and planning before he tested his ideas and inventions. This leads me to my point that the best way to succeed is preparation. In government work, preparation is crucial to being successful at what you do. Success requires learning and planning to be able to effectively reach goals and complete projects.

We should succeed more than we fail. This is just logical. If someone is failing in their job then perhaps they should try something else. This statement is a bit harsh and I am not trying to indict those who struggle in the workplace; however my intention is to shine light on an area of thought that I do not believe to be true – that a string of failures leads to success.

The title of my article today contains the word “business” but I think that government employees could benefit from the cautionary message that I am presenting. There is actually an industry of motivational speakers, mainly in the private sector, who promote the idea that you must fail before you can succeed and that the more you fail, the more you will learn and thus be ultimately successful.

The “failure movement” has done much harm in convincing people that they can and even should fail a certain number of times in order to propel them to success. The movement is especially popular in some circles and does not necessarily have implications for government in general –  though the mindset being developed has crept into public service to an extent. The reason that the failure mantra is ok in private industry is that the private sector is filled with entrepreneurs. I truly believe that entrepreneurial thinking is an asset in government service but preparation in any aspect of work is crucial.

This notion of a high tolerance for failure honestly does not make any sense. We become educated, get training in our jobs and search for a mentor so that we can be successful in our careers. Companies and governments do not hire employees to fail. A legitimate reason for fearing failure is that sometimes employees are admonished, demoted or even let go because of failure if it is of significant consequence. Of course I am writing editorially from my own experience but please allow my input because this experience has spanned over three decades.

So do your best, learn as much as you can and become disciplined as far as preparation. A lazy approach to achieving goals usually leads to disappointment and worse. Setting time aside to prepare and analyze information is critical for doing anything well. Small successes lead to greater competence which will in turn lead to greater accomplishments down the road.


Tim Dendy is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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Brady Smithsund

Thought provoking points, Tim! Love the idea of changing the culture of the “failure movement” to promote more success in business and in life. Thanks for posting!

Joe Antoshak

This is really great, the idea of perseverance in the face of failure. Working hard is important, and working hard to do something right is even more important.