98% of innovation projects around the world fail, according to Darrell Mann – a former chief engineer at Rolls Royce and one of the world’s most prolific inventors. You can probably think of several high-profile innovations that didn’t quite make it off the top of your head. Remember laser discs? They didn’t take off despite their excellent image quality – probably because they were heavy and easily damaged. Or quadraphonic sound? That’s another one that fell by the wayside.

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Time magazine’s list of the 50 worst inventions includes everything from baby cages to hair in a can. Even Apple has released innovations that didn’t quite make it – its Newton PDA in 1993, for example. People often see these products as failures, but these innovations made it out into the world, which is an achievement in itself. When it comes to these products, I’m with Edison, who said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.”

If at first you don’t succeed…

Failing, or finding the ways that don’t work, is a hugely important part of finding out what will work. The Newton was an ambitious project. Packed with new technology, it was one of the first devices with handwriting-recognition technology and an advanced touch display. However, Apple probably released it before it had perfected all these new technologies. Is it a failure though? Probably not in the grand scheme of things – after all, members of the team who worked on the Apple Newton went on to work on the iPad and iPhone.

As another great innovator, Woody Allen, said: “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

A vote of no confidence

This week on World of Innovation, we’ve looked at successful innovators in sport, technology and culture. Take a look at their stories here. We’re also looking at the innovations that didn’t quite make it. Vote on our poll about the innovations that fell just short.


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