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  • Writer's pictureRobert Stevenson

Some Good Ideas At First Failed Miserably


Robert Stevenson Blog - What could go wrong did go wrong.  Look at me now.

John Joseph Merlin was a very successful maker of clocks and precision instruments. He also designed weighing machines and wheelchairs, improved musical instruments and even spent much of his time trying to develop a perpetual motion machine. This highly intelligent man was also a talented musician who enjoyed playing both the harpsichord and violin. With this background, you might find it surprising that he is remembered for the man who invented the “Roller-Skate.”


In 1760, this brilliant man convinced himself that he could travel faster by foot if he would just strap wheels to his shoes. When is the last time you sat in a meeting and someone came up with an idea and your first thought was, that will never work? But let’s say you are an open-minded person and give them the latitude to prove their ridiculous idea. Would you still think the idea had potential if it failed miserably when they first demonstrated it?


Let’s go back to 1760 where John Merlin had been working on increasing the speed and efficiency of walking. He attached two wheels to a metal plate and then strapped them to his shoes (the first in-line skates) and after countless attempts to stand and skate … IT WORKED! Having been invited to a huge social event, a masked ball at the Carlisle House in the upscale Soho Square district of London, Mr. Merlin decided to unveil his new invention there. He didn’t play it safe. John decided to enter the grand ballroom on his roller skates while playing his violin; this was going to be a glorious moment for him. In front of the elite socialites of London, John skated in and lost his balance, crashed into a massive expensive mirror, destroying the mirror, his violin and his pride.


Had you been a witness of this enormous failure, would you immediately discount the idea as stupid, silly, ridiculous ... or would you look at the concept and think there might be some potential? Did Mr. Merlin fail because it was a stupid idea or, did he fail because he was not a very skilled skater who increased his chances for failure by playing his violin while skating? Had he not been playing a violin, could he have used his hands to possibly correct his balance as he headed for the mirror, thus making his grand entrance a success?


Mr. Merlin’s “SPECTACULAR” failure set back the use of roller-skates for several decades. It takes a special person to see past failure and look for potential. There are countless reasons for failure; there were things that happened you didn’t foresee, the design or process was flawed, you over-estimated your capabilities, you under-estimated your competition, you are a lousy skater … etc., etc., etc. It takes a special person to keep working at an idea to finally make it succeed. It takes a very special person to see every failure as a learning experience … as what not to do … and keep trying to find what you should do.


Here are three excellent quotes you should consider the next time you fail:

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”

“Success is going from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”

“Failure is the opportunity to being again … more intelligently.”


Never forget that success comes to those who see past failure, look for potential and realize not all great ideas worked the first time.

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