Success and Failure - What We Can Learn From Thomas Watson

Last week I posted a quote from Thomas Watson, the founder of IBM (You can read it here). After I published this quote, I decided to learn more about Watson and how he was able to turn his failures into success.

In his early years, Watson was a struggling salesman with the Wheeler and Wilcox Company in Buffalo. He had just relocated to a new city and was finding it difficult to adjust to his change of environment, and having to sell products door-to-door.

After making a especially challenging sale, Watson celebrated his success with a drink at the local pub. While he was enjoying his drink, his horse and buggy along with all of the company’s equipment were stolen from outside the bar. His success was immediately transformed into a failure and he was promptly fired.

It took Watson over a year to find another steady position which was selling shares of the Buffalo Building and Loan Company. At the time the company was led by a man of shady character, who ran off with all of the the company’s funds including Watson’s commissions.

Next Watson opened a butcher shop in Buffalo. This business soon failed, leaving Watson with no money and no job.

But Watson’s story doesn’t end here. Eventually, he went on to lead IBM, which was at that time one of the most powerful companies in the world.

What set Watson apart from his peers, and what can we learn from him that can help us bounce back from our failures?

Everyone Makes Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes in life - it’s unavoidable. It’s the steps that you make after your mistakes that make the difference between success and failure.

We can either let our mistakes drag us down, or use them as a learning opportunity and grow from them. In fact, most times we can learn more from our failure than we do from our success.


I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” - Michael Jordan

So, how can we learn from our failures?

First, Attitude Is Important

A positive attitude allows you to pick yourself up and move forward. It allows you to recognize that the game is not over, and that you can still be a success.

While a negative attitude is a valid coping mechanism for dealing with failure, it’s never going to help you to be a success. You will only succeed, by adopting a positive attitude.

Second, Learn From Your Mistakes

We can learn valuable lessons from every mistake if we are willing to look for them. The question is, are we willing to analyze our mistakes, and to learn from them? We are all unhappy about our mistakes, but they are often responsible for some of our most important lessons in life. So, we must remain open to learning from our mistakes because these lessons can help prevent us from making the same mistake twice, and lead us to our future successes.

Failure can be sudden and shocking. Just like Thomas Watson, we may fail several times before we succeed. If we maintain a positive attitude, and our willing to learn from our mistakes, we can use our failures and become more successful.

How have your past failures helped you to be more successful? Please Comment below.

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