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Letters to a Young Manager

1,008 Rejections, #101
LTYM > Innovation

Dear Sophie,
Apocryphal stories about Colonel Sanders, the founder of Kentucky Fried Chicken abound. Already a senior, he traveled far and wide to get restaurants to franchise his recipe in return for pennies per chicken sold. The story has it that he got 1,008 rejections before he made his first sale.

Thomas Edison is said to have run 10,000 experiments before finding the right filament to make the electric light bulb. When asked how he could stomach failing 10,000 times, he is purported to have said "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Persistence is in short supply today. We expect the fast solution, and often get derailed by failure. But something I learned from the sales guru, Tom Hopkins, is that each rejection is a closer step to a solution [1]. And that's how it is with experimenting. To use another metaphor, there will be many strikeouts on your way to a home run. Just look up Babe Ruth's record. [2]

One maxim I've learned: there is no innovation without failure. So practice patience along with your persistence.
Best regards,

[1] Kevin Daum, "10 Surprising Success Tips from Amazing Sales Guru Tom Hopkins," Inc., Nov. 22, 2013,
[2] Babe Ruth struck out 1330 times while hitting 708 home runs; Barry Bonds had 762 home runs and how many strikeouts? 1,539. And who is the strikeout leader? Mr. October, Reggie Jackson, with 2,597. He also hit 563 home runs.
Strikeout stats:
Home run stats:


Persistence pays

Discussion Questions:

1. How do you feel after a failure? What do you do about it?
2. Does your organization have a high or low tolerance for failure?
3. How can you re-frame a setback like Edison and Hopkins did?

For Further Reading:

See "Rejections into Opportunities," Story #626.

© Copyright 2005, 2024, E. G. Happ, All Rights Reserved.

Colonel Sanders 1,008 rejections before he sold an investor on his recipe

There is no mention of the history of rejections during the two-year road trip he took in the 1950's franchising his recipe.:

"With his monetary capital depleted, Sanders realized he could not open another restaurant, but he did realize that with what capital he had he could try to sell rights or franchises to his special recipe, which had been successful at two locations. So, at age 66, when most men would have retired, Sanders hit the road to sell his then not-so-famous recipe.

In order to make the sale, Sanders would stop at a restaurant, prepare the chicken free, using the special recipe, and then let the owner decide whether he wished to acquire a franchise. The fee was rather modest—four cents per chicken (later increased to five cents). Sanders often tried the chicken himself after preparing it, so he generally got at least one free meal at each stop. Even early in his attempt to sell franchises, Sanders always looked for a quality restaurant—one that would maintain his reputation for a fine product."

The legend is cited here:

"When Colonel Sanders was 65 years old, he received his first social security cheque of US$99 (S$170). He was broke. His only asset was a secret fried chicken recipe. He left his home in Kentucky and travelled to many states in the United States to sell this recipe.
He offered his secret recipe to many restaurant owners for free. All he wanted in return was a small percentage of the sales.
Over 1,000 restaurants rejected his offer. How many of you would have quit after making one or two unsuccessful sales calls? On his 1,009th sales visit, one restaurant finally accepted his offer.
Today, Kentucky Fried Chicken outlets and Colonel Sanders statues are found all over the world. "

See his memoir for possible quotes:

Life as I have known it has been finger lickin' good (Unknown Binding)
Harland Sanders


The Thomas Edison story of the incandescent light bulb may be more interesting (and verifiable:)

"Edison, like others before him, conceived the idea of a light with a glowing wire, or filament, made of a substance that could endure very high temperatures without fusing, melting, or burning out. After hundreds of trials and more than a year of steady work, Edison developed a high-resistance carbon-thread filament that burned steadily for more than 40 hours. Although not the first incandescent electric light, it was the first practical one because it used a small current and, in addition, lasted a long time without burning out."

I love the failure quote here:
In 1876, in Menlo Park, New Jersey, Edison founded his famous "invention factory." "The Wizard of Menlo Park" was a workaholic and a demanding employer, but he did not resent failures in the lab: "That's one more way it won't work, so we're closer to a solution." Edison's first great Menlo Park invention was the phonograph (1877), although he did not bring it to market for ten years. He was busy with his greatest project: a workable electric light system that would replace candles and gaslight forever, at home and in public.

In 1878, Edison created his prototype incandescent light bulb: a thin strip of paper, attached to wires, enclosed in a vacuum inside a glass bulb. When electricity flowed into the paper "filament," it heated up, and glowed. The only problem was that the paper burnt out very quickly. After thousands of tests, an "Edison Pioneer," Lewis H. Latimer, found the optimal filament material: carbonized cotton thread (1897).