You don’t know how far you can go until you go too far. This was something my father said often when I was younger, most likely linked to some action I committed that was based on a poor decision. As children growing up, you learn to test boundaries, and you learn quickly that failure can teach the most memorable and tactile lessons. We learn to walk by standing up and falling. We learn about hot stoves by burning our hands. Life is full of lessons that are learned by trial and error. And yet as we get older, the actual art of failure is less and less encouraged by parents, teachers, professors, and business owners. As an adult, the stakes of failure are higher. Suddenly, failure goes from a bump on the head to life and death consequences — physically, mentally, or financially. And yet history is filled with those who dared to fail, especially within the HVAC industry.

Civilizations and societies since ancient time have played one way or another in the arena of heating and cooling spaces, either due to necessity or due to the pursuit of comfort. Dr. John Gorrie, a Florida physician in the 1840s, was one of the first people reported to experiment with the concept of cooling spaces. His goal was to temper the severe Florida heat for his patients by using ice, which was created by a compressor that was powered by a horse, water, and wind-driven sails. While Gorrie’s invention was a success, it wasn’t completely practical. It was not until 1902 that engineer Willis Carrier took up the mantle in the evolution of HVAC — not for the purpose of conditioning a house or business, but in the pursuit of solving the humidity problem that was causing magazine pages to wrinkle at Sackett-Wilhelms Lithographing & Publishing Co. in Brooklyn, New York.

Through a series of experimentations and failures, Carrier was able to develop the first system to control humidity in a space using cooling coils. And it wasn’t long after that when Carrier discovered the correlation between dehumidification and air conditioning. With a new passion in sight, Carrier, along with six other engineers, formed the Carrier Engineering Corp. At the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904, the general public got their first taste of comfort cooling at the Missouri State Building, where the a/c system used 35,000 cfm to cool the 1,000-seat auditorium. By the 1920s, Americans were flocking to the first air conditioned theaters while watching their favorite stars on the big screen. Thus, the creation of the “summer blockbusters” was born.

But as you may have guessed, the story doesn’t stop there. Over the next 90-plus years, the science behind HVAC experienced many ups and downs. Size restrictions, refrigerant and environmental changes and hazards, and the sheer expense of the products made it difficult to bring the technology of heating and cooling to the average home.

So where would we be as an industry if we allowed the failures and pitfalls of the past to keep us from trying again and succeeding? Our entire industry is built on the successful failure of our products, as the engineers had to learn to embrace the art of failure. Testing, researching, developing, and experimenting have been the backbones for progress, and with each new test, engineers and designers learn more about what a unit is capable of; they literally push the unit to its limits until it fails.

So how does one truly accept and embrace the art of failure?


1. First, we must accept that failing at a task does not make us a failure.

As we grow, the act of failing becomes less an act and more a personality description. Generations of children who have matured into adulthood grew up under the mandate that failure was not an option. But we all know failure is inevitable in life. So don’t let the fear of failing keep you from trying; just accept that it is part of the process.


2. Be prepared to fail again and again and again.

In the process of growth, exploration, and research, it is important to realize that failure is bound to happen. Yet with each failure, it is our responsibility to determine why we failed or what caused the failure. Once the cause is determined, we need to take the time to learn from the failure and devise another plan of attack. As frustrating as it can be, this is all part of the process. Each time you fail, you are essentially learning how not to do the task you’re trying to do. Thomas Edison said it best when commenting about his early failures at making a lightbulb. “I didn’t fail,” he said, “I just found 2,000 ways not to make a lightbulb; I only needed to find one way to make it work.”


3. Never be afraid to ask for advice or help.

When it comes to success, I believe that most of the greatest victories are not achieved alone. Mentors, counselors, teachers, and even religious advisors have served as sounding boards for ideas and concepts. But asking for help or seeking advice doesn’t stop there. The simple act of admitting that you failed and allowing those around you to help you move through the grieving process in order to get back to the light is paramount for success.


4. Whatever you do, never stop trying.

In the end, it is always important to celebrate every small victory and milestone. Without these celebrations, we are bound to get discouraged and stop trying. Always strive to better yourself, your products, your ideas, and your business. The only true failure comes from either quitting or not trying at all.

No great invention or work of art was created without a string of mistakes and failures in its wake. Even the most world-renowned writers, poets, musicians, scientists, and engineers spent their time being told no or that they weren’t good enough.

Success is not always about what we can accomplish. Sometimes it’s just about not giving up. Our industry is constantly evolving, which requires us to follow suit. We cannot allow the fear of failure to limit us from the possibilities of the future. Always remember that failure doesn’t have to be the end for those who are brave enough to crawl out of the ashes and try again. The failure they experienced the first time gives them strength, knowledge, and motivation to succeed that much more the next time around. And that is the beauty that hides within the art of failure.


Publication date: 6/24/2019

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