The pace of breakthrough technologies and scientific innovation in the 21st century can, at times, be breathtaking. Year after year, the boundaries of what we once thought possible are pushed a little farther.
Every industry has come to utilize technology in some form, and for the most part, this has resulted in people taking technological achievements for granted. This can be seen as a good thing, mind you, as it demonstrates that quality of life and scientific understanding and acceptability is increasing, generally speaking.
However, it’s essential to recognize that behind every breakthrough is a trail of failures. Companies that are synonymous with progress have all faced hardships at one point or another. Achieving technological innovation and success is often dependent upon failure, and the companies below can certainly attest to that.
For many of us, it’s hard to imagine a world where Tesla isn’t dominating in every aspect.
The company has contributed significantly in pushing solar photovoltaic energy technology, energy storage, and electric vehicles (EV) into the mainstream, all while developing a wide range of innovations that have set them apart as an industry leader. Today, Tesla sets the tone of the EV market, but it wasn’t always this way.
In 2009, Tesla was unable to raise startup money (and didn’t have nearly enough on hand) to develop its Model S vehicle, primarily due to delays and rising cost expectations. Tesla nearly collapsed; what saved it was the American auto bailout, which provided the company $465 million in low-interest loans, most of which was used for research and development.
Today, Tesla has completely bounced back and counts amongst the most high-performing stocks.
It took nearly two decades for Apple to make a name for itself as an innovative brand that emphasizes design aesthetics at the heart of all of its decisions. This emphasis on design, however, often got Apple into trouble throughout the 80s and 90s.
Among their most notable failures was the Apple 3 computer, which lacked cooling fans and adequate case sizing, as per their design team’s request. These decisions, which caused dangerous overheating in the computer, were made to keep the computers’ size as small as possible (though it was still clunky and awkward) and running quietly.
Today, Apple has mastered the balancing act between aesthetics and functionality, engineering and design. Consequently, the company is now one of the most valuable stocks on Wallstreet, with the world’s second-highest market capitalization.
Perhaps the company with the most salient and recent set of failures, SpaceX remains an industry leader in developing space technology, including advanced rockets and spacecraft. With the ultimate goal of enabling the colonization of mars, SpaceX is undoubtedly the most ambitious company on this list, thanks mainly to its eccentric CEO, Elon Musk.
SpaceX recently succeeded in launching its Starlink satellites, which offer high-speed internet access to areas current providers ignore.
SpaceX successfully landed its futuristic Starship, finally nailing a test flight of the rocketship that Elon Musk intends to use to land astronauts on the moon and send people to Mars. Previous test flights of the rocketship ended in spectacular explosions.
The rocket explosions ultimately proved more valuable in the long run, as they enabled innovative alterations to be made. Elon Musk was said to have coined the term “successful failure” after the last rocketship explosion.
The leading company in subscription-based media content, Netflix is known for its high-quality originals, a wide selection of premium viewing options, a well-designed user face, and an excellent recommendation algorithm. Yet, just ten years ago, Netflix was on the cusp of self-destructing.
By unilaterally changing the company’s streaming structure in 2011, Netflix had effectively increased the service’s price by 60%, with little warning, all while the world was still grappling with the impacts of the 2009 recession. The company lost 80% of its stock price and 800,000 customers, threatening to shutter the business for good.
Netflix stayed the course making some changes to its financial model, contact and technology. This strategy has worked remarkably well, as Netflix has resumed its position as the most prominent global streaming service, ahead of Disney+, and HBO Max.
Montreal-based technology company PyroGenesis Canada embodies the power of tenacity, drive and vision, and is an example of what can happen when all three come together with a common goal.
Today, PyroGenesis is listed on the Nasdaq as a world leader in commercializing plasma-based technologies. The Company can now boast of commercial relationships with multi-billion dollar companies in each of its main business lines, but it wasn’t always that easy.
When PyroGenesis was still trying to make its mark on the industry scene, plasma technology, at the time was considered a very expensive technology. It was considered an energy hog, often considered way ahead of its time, and delegated to labs and researchers.
On its path to commercializing plasma technology, the company was criticized for embarking on a frivolous venture, as it tried to demonstrate the usefulness of plasma technologies in answer to the U.S Navy’s need to destroy waste onboard the US Aircraft Carriers. The common thinking at the time was that it was difficult to prove plasma on land, but to try and do that to the more stringent marine requirements was insane.
After numerous trials and difficulties, PyroGenesis is now the technology of choice in the industry and has come to be synonymous with greenhouse gas reduction.
George Bernard Shaw once said: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world while the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” It’s easy to lose sight of the processes that go into shaping our society, but they’re worth reflecting on.
Achievement is a matter of having the right attitude and grit to stay the course, with diamond hands. After all, the path to technological innovation and success is littered with failure.