This is what inventors can teach us about success

Unfortunately, the path to positive change is not always obvious. Whether you’re trying to build a successful business or reach a breakthrough in your creative work, the route to success can be elusive.

Artwork by John P. Weiss

Do what you’ve always done, get what you’ve always got. Most of us know that self-improvement involves change.

You can’t expect to lose weight through wishful thinking. Nor can you continue consuming the same calories, or stick with the same old exercise routine. Results happen when we change what’s not working.

Unfortunately, the path to positive change is not always obvious. Whether you’re trying to build a successful business or reach a breakthrough in your creative work, the route to success can be elusive.

People who confront such crossroads often turn to research. They scour the Internet in search of tips, tricks and wisdom from others.

Sometimes this works. Other times, the result is even more confusion. Thankfully, the answer can often be found in something I call, “The Inventor’s Secret.”

10,000 ways that won’t work

Thomas Alva Edison was born February 11, 1847 and left this earth on October 18, 1931. In his lifetime he was a prolific inventor.

Among the many devices Edison created were the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and perhaps his best known creation, the long-lasting lightbulb.

I don’t really have a phonograph in my studio, but it would be cool if I did.

According to Wikipedia, Edison held some 1,093 patents in the United States as well as numerous patents overseas.

“If we did all the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.” — Thomas Edison

Many argue that Thomas Edison was not the inventor of the lightbulb. There were others who created earlier lightbulbs, but Edison perfected the durable incandescent lightbulb.

He experimented with a variety of different metal filaments before finding his carbonized bamboo filament. Why was he so successful? Because he demonstrated the power of the Inventor’s Secret. And the inventor’s secret is experimentation.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” — Thomas Edison

Explore a bit of trial and error

People are fearful to try new things. They play it safe. They don’t want to risk. But you don’t have to bet the whole farm to experiment a little.

Experimentation allows us to explore a bit of trial and error, which can accelerate our success and personal growth.

Take that silly monocycle I drew in the top cartoon. How much experimentation did it take to invent one of those? And in case you’re wondering, they do exist. Check out this video.

I exchanged emails once with Brian Gardner, a minimalist designer and writer. I liked his simple and clean approach to website design. Brian designed the website for Joshua Becker’s popular Becomingminimalist.com website. I emailed Brian to ask about the best placement for email subscription boxes.

I noticed that Brian placed the email subscription box at the bottom of the Becomingminimalist.com site. Usually, bloggers place their email sign ups near the top of the page, for maximum exposure.

However, some argue that if people like your content, they’ll sign up anyway. Brian suggested I simply try the bottom of the page. In other words, experiment. If it doesn’t work out, change the subscription box to another location.

“With any new medium, the full power is only unearthed with experimentation.” — Sebastian Thrun

We seldom deviate

Brian’s advice got me thinking about a lot of things we do in life. We tend to fall into routines. Preferred methods and practices. As long as our routines work reasonably well, we seldom deviate.

However, entrepreneurs and successful people keep tweaking and experimenting. They don’t settle for the status quo. Modest experimentation carries minimal risk but a potentially increased return on investment.

As far as email subscription boxes, I experimented and found that placing mine at the bottom of the webpage worked just fine.

Perhaps I could attract more subscribers with popups and an obnoxious, in your face button at the top of the page, but that’s not me. Through experimentation, I found I could adopt a minimalistic approach and still attract new subscribers.

Ever since then, I’ve adopted the Inventor’s Secret in many areas of my life. If something doesn’t work, I’ll experiment. Modify. Changes things ups.

We can’t forget our uniqueness

The principle can work in many areas of our lives. Tweak your diet and see how it goes. If you gain weight, modify it. Try to increase productivity by rising earlier. If you see improvements, terrific. If you can’t stay awake, switch back to later evenings.

Whether you’re an entrepreneur trying to expand your business, a chef in a popular restaurant, or a writer trying to grow your readership, periodic experimentation may uncover new opportunites and winning approaches.

I know of a blogger who found modest success writing, but whose storytelling really took off when he experimented with videos and YouTube.

There is a caveat. What works for one person may not work for another. As much as we search for advice and direction, we can’t forget our uniqueness.

Just because one blogger switched from writing to greater success on YouTube, doesn’t mean we will, too. Each of us possess different talents. But, in order to uncover what winning formula will work for us, we need to experiment.

To that end, remember the Inventor’s Secret. Don’t just stand there and do nothing. Embrace a little experimentation in your life. You might discover a new approach that will take your work, and your dreams, to new levels of success.

Before you go

I’m John P. Weiss. I draw cartoons, paint, and write about life. Thanks for reading.

This article first appeared on Medium.