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What Is The Accurate Edison Quote On Learning From Failure?


I’ve written in this blog (see What Does Learning From Mistakes Do To Your Brain?) and in my most recent book about helping students realize that making mistakes, and learning from them, are important for all of us to do — they’re critical for our success.

Most of us have heard one version or another of Thomas Edison’s famous quote about failure and inventing the light bulb. I’ve just read a version I hadn’t heard before, though I like:

“I have not failed 10,000 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 10,000 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

However, I’ve never found the original source so I could find out for sure what he actually said.

Do any of you have the original citation?

Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.


  1. Better memories than mine will help you here, Larry. But I always loved this aphorism about Edison:

    “When he set out to invent the light bulb, Edison was not tinkering with candles.”

    Ironically, though, the filament that worked after thousands of failures was carbonized cotton, close kin to the candle’s wick.

    I think there may be a lesson in this for all of us….Tom

  2. Pingback: Tinkering with Candles | Scripted Spontaneity

  3. Tom,

    I generally agree with your thinking and what I believe you’re inferring about the more predictable returns one can expect from iterative vs. revolutionary development.

    It actually made me remember the quote oft attributed to Henry Ford where in response to his famous disregard for incremental customer-driven innovation he said:

    “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

    I recently read a compelling Harvard Business Review article by Patrick Vlaskovits that contends Ford never said such a thing, and that in fact his insular disposition nearly cost him the business (seemingly overnight!):

    As for Edison’s quote, while there’s little doubt Edison himself originated the adage in an interview for the NYTimes, the exact semantics remain in dispute. Below is a composite of the most reliable sources (I came across during the 40 minutes of research I did into it) for that exact quote :

    Edison, when queried by a reporter about the seemingly incredible difficulties associate with his work on the lightbulb rebutted, “I have not failed 700 times. I’ve succeeded in proving 700 ways how not to build a lightbulb.”

    Even including the Tesla controversies, that Edison fella was a truly one in a billion.


    Christian Hunter

  4. The quote that you gave is also mentioned in a Forbes article by Nathan Furr.

    There is many controversies over what the exact quote is. However, I do like this version of the quote better than the others I have heard.

  5. Promisingly reliable research on this quote can be read here:

  6. When a reporter asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

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