Failure sucks, nobody likes it, and we should change the way we talk about it.

So at ETA, Boing Boing Science Editor and New York Times writer Maggie Koerth-Baker took us on a journey of failures of the past.

In the context of technological innovation, failure is part of the process. We like to tell ourselves a fantasy about technology as though it is a process of inevitability—that innovations succeed by following a logical path—but the reality is a lot messier.

If you look at history, you see a world where good ideas fail. Take electricity, for example. It was not a sure thing.

Electricity took 80 years of tinkering with technology that was never quite ready for prime time. Then a demand had to be created. Fast-forward 40 more years. It was not until the 1930s to 1950s that electricity arrived in rural areas thanks to federal government initiatives.

In school, we are taught that innovation is a straight road to the future. This assumes that the thing that is best solves our problem until something better comes along. It also assumes that we will always choose the better thing.

Let’s consider instead how the theory of Technological Momentum views history:

  • We create technologies, which in turn shape the way we live. It is that process that creates our reality.
  • We are not logical creatures. We don’t base decisions only on how well things work. Technology does not exist in a vacuum; it is intertwined with culture.
  • Time plays an incredibly important role. We choose our tools, our tools shape us, and that in turn determines our development.

Failure and success are not inevitable. They are not built into the quality of a technology. Technology and culture are two sides of the same coin. We fail for reasons that are tied up in the interaction between the two.

Companies don’t make technology; they make socio-technological systems.

As advertisers, you engage with the public. If you are waiting until a technology is completed before telling them about it, you are waiting too long. Researchers and communicators should be working together at every stage of the innovation process.

As custodians of brands, take advantage of opportunities to share interesting stories about your company. When you start telling the whole story, it changes the way your customers expect innovation and perceive failure. It changes your place in history, and theirs. It changes everything.