The Confusing Glory Of Failure

He typed up his findings, but paused for a couple seconds to make a few additional notes on his paper. When I went to check on his progress, he showed me.

dominic tears

The puddle at the bottom is filled with his tears. I laughed. He wasn’t actually crying in real life. He was in one of those goofy, disappointed moods where you’re emotionally wobbly enough to crack jokes at why you’re bummed.

His experiment for the upcoming science fair at school didn’t turn out how he had hoped it would. His sister’s did. She built a circuit, pressed the right buttons, and the light attached to the wires lit up.

But, it didn’t happen right away. There was some tinkering along the way – and he was busy playing kickball, so he didn’t see all the times it didn’t light up.

His project was a little simpler. He wanted to see if citrus fruit could provide enough energy to light a tiny lightbulb. And by tiny, I mean, it was smaller than a raisin.  He had seen the experiment online – followed the instructions – and knew it had to work.

Except, it didn’t.

He tried sliced limes as a test. It didn’t work. Then, an orange. No light.  Then he ran down to our neighbor’s house and asked for a lemon off her tree. But, that still didn’t work.

testing 1testing 2

In set the disappointment, and my attempts to explain that his perceived failure is part of the experiment. It’s part of science. It’s how you learn.

We talked to him about Elon Musk, not knowing the exact number, but explaining that he had to fail a ton of times when developing Teslas and working on SpaceX. And Ron asked him to guess how many times the Dyson vacuum guy failed before perfecting his super expensive vacuum.

Maybe our tiny lightbulb was still too big. Maybe we had lame, “juiceless” fruit. There just wasn’t enough energy inside the fruit to power up the bulb.

I get it, he wanted a big and flashy and impressive presentation. And instead his work provided no light at all.

But his brain was chugging. And considering why. And offering different options. And wondering how the light could work – if we had different fruit or vegetables or a different bulb.


That’s the most important part of the whole thing. The curiosity. I’m sure he doesn’t see it, but he’s experiencing it. His curiosity because of his experiment’s perceived failure may lead to the success he’s looking for.

And isn’t that what innovation is all about?