The Most Successful Failures: An Exclusive Ranking of Remarkable Misses

Choose the failures you think is the most successful!

Author: Gregor Krambs
Updated on Apr 19, 2024 06:17
Welcome to StrawPoll's thrilling journey through the world of "Most Successful Failures"! Here's your chance to explore the unexpected twists and turns of history, innovation, and resilience that transformed epic fails into groundbreaking achievements. Dive into a captivating collection of stories where underdogs defy the odds and come out on top, turning their failures into phenomenal success. So, are you ready to vote for your favorite success story that emerged from the ashes of defeat, or suggest a hidden gem that's missing from our list? Gear up for an exhilarating ride and discover the beauty of bouncing back, only on StrawPoll!

What Are the Most Successful Failures?

  1. 1
    Thomas Edison
    Louis Bachrach, Bachrach Studios, restored by Michel Vuijlsteke · Public domain

    Thomas Edison

    Thomas Edison
    Failed 10,000 times before inventing the light bulb,
    Thomas Edison is a widely-known inventor who is best known for his invention of the practical electric light bulb, commonly referred to as the incandescent light bulb. Despite being considered one of his greatest successes, the invention went through a series of failures and iterations before becoming a working product.
    • Invention: Incandescent light bulb
    • Patented: First commercialized on January 27, 1880
    • Filament: Carbonized bamboo
    • Vacuum: Introduced vacuum to increase bulb lifespan
    • Material: Glass bulb
    Thomas Edison in other rankings
  2. 2

    J.K. Rowling

    J.K. Rowling
    Her Harry Potter manuscript was rejected by 12 publishers before being accepted,
    J.K. Rowling is a highly successful British author best known for creating the Harry Potter franchise. Her books have gained worldwide popularity, selling more than 500 million copies and being translated into multiple languages. The Harry Potter series has been adapted into a highly successful film franchise, with a total gross of over $7 billion. Rowling's writing has captivated audiences of all ages and continues to have a significant cultural impact.
    • Books Sold: Over 500 million
    • Languages Translated: Multiple
    • Film Adaptations: 8 movies in the Harry Potter series
    • Total Film Gross: Over $7 billion
    • Cultural Impact: Significant
    J.K. Rowling in other rankings
  3. 3
    Cut from his high school basketball team,
    Michael Jordan is a basketball shoe released by Nike in collaboration with the renowned professional basketball player Michael Jordan. It is widely regarded as one of the most iconic and successful sneaker lines in history, known for its innovative design, performance, and cultural impact.
    • Release Year: 1984
    • Design Inspiration: Michael Jordan's playing style
    • Technology: Air cushioning for enhanced comfort and support
    • Materials: Combination of leather and synthetic materials
    • Colorways: Numerous color options and collaborations
    Michael Jordan in other rankings
  4. 4

    Steve Jobs

    Steve Jobs
    Fired from his own company, Apple,
    Steve Jobs was a co-founder, chairman, and CEO of Apple Inc., known for his remarkable contributions to the technology industry. He was widely regarded as a visionary and played a pivotal role in revolutionizing multiple industries with his innovative products and design sensibilities.
    • Co-founder: Co-founded Apple Inc. along with Steve Wozniak in 1976
    • Chairman: Served as chairman of Apple Inc.
    • CEO: Served as the CEO of Apple Inc. from 1997 to 2011
    • Visionary: Known for his forward-thinking ideas and revolutionary product concepts
    • Innovator: Played a crucial role in introducing groundbreaking products like the iPhone, iPad, and MacBook
    Steve Jobs in other rankings
  5. 5
    Oprah Winfrey
    US Embassy South Africa · Public domain

    Oprah Winfrey

    Oprah Winfrey
    Fired from her first TV job,
    Oprah Winfrey is a highly successful American media executive, talk show host, television producer, actress, and philanthropist. She is considered one of the most influential women in the world of entertainment.
    • Birth Date: January 29, 1954
    • Birth Place: Kosciusko, Mississippi, U.S.
    • Career Start: The Oprah Winfrey Show (1986-2011)
    • Net Worth: Approximately $2.6 billion (as of 2020)
    • Awards: Multiple Emmy Awards, a Tony Award, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom
    Oprah Winfrey in other rankings
  6. 6
    Walt Disney
    Coolcaesar · CC BY-SA 4.0

    Walt Disney

    Walt Disney
    Fired from a newspaper for "lack of imagination,"
    Walt Disney is a multinational entertainment and media company known for its iconic creations and contributions to the film, animation, and theme park industries. Despite facing numerous setbacks and failures throughout its history, the company has become one of the most successful and recognizable brands worldwide.
    • Founding Year: 1923
    • Headquarters: Burbank, California, United States
    • Industry: Entertainment
    • Number of Employees: approximately 223,000
    • Key Contributions: Film production, animation, theme parks
    Walt Disney in other rankings
  7. 7

    Albert Einstein

    Albert Einstein
    Failed his entrance exam to university,
    Albert Einstein was a revolutionary physicist who developed the theory of relativity, which greatly influenced our understanding of the laws of physics and the universe. Despite facing initial skepticism and rejection, his work eventually led to numerous advances in science and technology.
    • Theory of Relativity: Einstein's groundbreaking theory that explains the relationships between space, time, and gravity.
    • Nobel Prize in Physics: Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.
    • E=mc²: The famous equation derived by Einstein, which relates energy (E) to mass (m) and the speed of light (c) squared.
    • Special Relativity: A theory that describes the behavior of objects moving at constant velocities relative to each other, challenging traditional concepts of space and time.
    • General Relativity: An extension of special relativity that includes acceleration and gravity, explaining the curvature of space and the motion of celestial bodies.
    Albert Einstein in other rankings
  8. 8

    Abraham Lincoln

    Abraham Lincoln
    Lost numerous elections before becoming President of the United States,
    Abraham Lincoln was a political figure and the 16th president of the United States. He is best known for leading the country through its civil war and issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, which declared the end of slavery in the United States. Lincoln's leadership and determination have made him one of the most respected and influential presidents in American history.
    • Birth: February 12, 1809
    • Presidency: March 4, 1861 – April 15, 1865
    • Political Party: Republican
    • Civil War: Led the Union during the American Civil War
    • Emancipation Proclamation: Issued on January 1, 1863
    Abraham Lincoln in other rankings
  9. 9
    Vincent Van Gogh
    Vincent van Gogh · Public domain

    Vincent Van Gogh

    Vincent Van Gogh
    Only sold one painting during his lifetime,
    Vincent Van Gogh is a renowned post-impressionist artwork renowned for its expressive use of color and emotive brushstrokes. The painting, created by Vincent Van Gogh, depicts a vibrant landscape featuring a field of sunflowers in various stages of bloom.
    • Artistic Movement: Post-Impressionism
    • Creation Year: 1888
    • Medium: Oil on canvas
    • Dimensions: 92 cm × 73 cm (36.2 in × 28.7 in)
    • Location: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam
  10. 10
    Steven Spielberg
    Romain DUBOIS · CC BY-SA 3.0

    Steven Spielberg

    Steven Spielberg
    Was rejected from film school multiple times,
    Steven Spielberg is a highly successful American filmmaker and producer. He is widely regarded as one of the most influential directors in the history of cinema, with a career spanning several decades and encompassing numerous blockbuster films. Spielberg is known for his ability to create captivating stories and bring them to life on the big screen.
    • Birthdate: December 18, 1946
    • Nationality: American
    • Academy Awards: 3 wins, 16 nominations
    • Filmography: Over 30 feature films
    • Highest-Grossing Film: Jurassic Park ($1.03 billion worldwide)
    Steven Spielberg in other rankings

Missing your favorite failures?


Ranking factors for successful failures

  1. Learning outcomes
    The extent to which the failure contributed to valuable lessons and growth opportunities for individuals or organizations. A successful failure should lead to new insights, understanding, or skills.
  2. Innovation and risk-taking
    The degree to which the failure resulted from attempts to innovate, take risks, or break away from established norms. Failures that stem from bold and daring ventures should be valued more positively than those that result from careless mistakes or inaction.
  3. Resilience and recovery
    The level of resilience and adaptability demonstrated by the individuals or organizations involved in the failure. The ability to bounce back, learn from the experience, and continue moving forward is a key factor in evaluating the success of a failure.
  4. Impact on future success
    The role that the failure played in shaping future success, either by preparing individuals or organizations for challenges, creating opportunities for growth, or directly contributing to later accomplishments.
  5. Contribution to a broader field or industry
    The extent to which the failure influenced or contributed to advancements, discoveries, or changes in a broader field or industry. A successful failure should ideally have a positive ripple effect on others, inspiring learning and progress beyond the immediate context of the failure itself.
  6. Cultural and societal factors
    The degree to which societal or cultural attitudes toward failure may have influenced the perception or evaluation of the event. A successful failure should be appreciated for its potential value, rather than stigmatized or punished solely for not achieving a desired outcome.
  7. Duration and scale
    The size and scope of the failure, as well as the time and resources invested in the endeavor. A balance should be struck between recognizing failures that occurred despite significant investment, while also valuing smaller-scale mistakes that can still offer valuable learning opportunities.
  8. Accountability and responsibility
    The extent to which individuals or organizations take responsibility for their failures, acknowledge mistakes, and commit to learning from them. A successful failure should involve a sense of ownership and responsibility on the part of those involved.
  9. Communication and transparency
    The extent to which the failure was openly discussed, analyzed, and communicated, both internally and externally. Successful failures should be accompanied by honest and transparent conversations about what went wrong, what can be learned, and how to move forward.
  10. Integrity and ethics
    The degree to which the individuals or organizations involved in the failure demonstrated integrity and ethical behavior both during and after the event. A successful failure should not involve dishonesty, unethical actions, or attempts to cover up or downplay the extent of the mistake.

About this ranking

This is a community-based ranking of the most successful failures. We do our best to provide fair voting, but it is not intended to be exhaustive. So if you notice something or Failure is missing, feel free to help improve the ranking!


  • 186 votes
  • 10 ranked items

Voting Rules

A participant may cast an up or down vote for each Failure once every 24 hours. The rank of each Failure is then calculated from the weighted sum of all up and down votes.


More information on most successful failures

Background Information: The Paradox of Successful Failures Failure is often seen as a negative outcome, something to be avoided at all costs. However, some of the most successful individuals in history have experienced failure on their path to success. This paradox of successful failures suggests that sometimes, failure can be a necessary step towards achieving greatness. The concept of successful failure is not new. In fact, it has been observed throughout history in many fields, including science, technology, and the arts. For example, Thomas Edison failed thousands of times before finally inventing the light bulb. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper for lacking creativity and went bankrupt before creating the iconic Disney brand. Steve Jobs was famously fired from his own company before returning to lead Apple to unprecedented success. So why do some individuals succeed despite experiencing failure? Research suggests that failure can serve as a valuable learning experience. By analyzing their mistakes, individuals can identify areas for improvement and make necessary changes to their approach. Failure can also help to build resilience, perseverance, and grit, all of which are essential qualities for success. The paradox of successful failures highlights the importance of embracing failure as a natural part of the learning process. By reframing failure as an opportunity for growth, individuals can overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. As the saying goes, "success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts."

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