I have been asked which of Thomas Edison quotes are my favorite. It is hard to pick favorites, but it is easier to point out the ones that have had a greater impact as I have studied the man and his approach to innovation. Here are five quotes that have impacted me:
“Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
The last quote has had an impression on me since I was a boy. My father has had a plaque with this quote on the wall of his office for as long as I can remember.
“Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.”
Recently we posted about the Wright Brothers. We received such a good response that I thought I would go back and see if there were any inspirational quotations from them. I found some, but I found something else that I thought was interesting. Just like the rest of us they thought about giving up. In some of their letters they stated that they thought it might take a thousand years to be able to fly and that they may not even be able to do it.
Even though they had doubts, they kept on going. It reminds me of the Edison quote, “Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That’s not the place to become discouraged.” These brothers were able to get past the discouragement and keep moving. Sometimes it takes just a little inspiration to get us to success. Here are a few of their thoughts to help us keep going towards our innovation.
“What one man can do himself directly is but little. If however he can stir up ten others to take up the task he has accomplished much.”
“I am an enthusiast, but not a crank in the sense that I have some pet theories as to the proper construction of a flying machine. I wish to avail myself of all that is already known and then if possible add my mite to help the future worker who will attain final success.”
“It is possible to fly without motors, but not without knowledge and skill.”
“If they had been interested in invention with the idea of making money, they most assuredly would have tried something in which the chances for success were higher.”
“If we all worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true is really true, there would be little hope of advance.”
Most people believe they work hard, or at least they say they work hard. But there is a secret to working hard, and working harder than everyone else.
I have long admired Kobe Bryant’s work ethic. He is a gifted athlete who works harder than most other athletes. How hard does he work? The video below gives some of the details. He started back in high school and has continued on the path of hard work to this day.
What causes some people to be willing to work this hard? How do you develop this passion? Steve Jobs explains in the video below that you have to love what you are doing. Then you will have the passion and drive to work hard when others might quit. This drive will get you through the difficult times that will surely come.
Edison loved to invent. That was his passion. He described the work in his laboratory this way, “I derive more benefit and entertainment from this than some of my friends and competitors get from playing games like golf.” His work was his play and his passion.
So, do you want to know the secret to hard work? Find what you like to do and are passionate about. Then the work will feel like play, and this will be how you find success in your innovation.
This blog was originally posted on January 15, 2016
This time of year people reflect on the past year and set goals and resolutions for the next. Where can we improve? What can we accomplish? Such questions often fill our minds at home and work. Thomas Edison asked these and similar questions all through his life. He had a unusual outlook as he sought the answers. When he applied his conclusions to innovation, he created remarkable results.
A great example from Edison’s life about his goals and vision is found in the creation of the light bulb. Edison had a vision of what he wanted to accomplish: to create the incandescent light bulb. While he had some ideas on how he would accomplish his goal, he did not have all the steps laid out on a nice checklist. In fact, most of his steps “failed.” He tried thousands of approaches to developing the right filament that did not work. This didn’t distract him from his goal. What others perceived as failure, Edison viewed as important steps to his ultimate goal.
When asked about his results, or rather lack of results, regarding the light bulb Edison stated, “Results? Why, man, I’ve gotten lots of results! If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every every wrong attempt discarded is often a step forward…” He recognized the small steps he took brought him closer to his goal, even if an outside observer considered it a failure. Each “failure” was really a learning opportunity.
Innovation often comes from trying new approaches to old problems. So as we begin a new year, keep in mind the words of Edison’s good friend Henry Ford, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently.”
This blog was originally posted December 28, 2010.
This has been a difficult and discouraging year for some, but during this time of Christmas and the coming New Year, we often focus on hope and faith and the positive aspects of life. Personal and organizational goals are made for the New Year with an expectation that we will do better. Innovation and hope often walk hand in hand. The dreamers hope they will be able to improve their, or others circumstances with some new idea or products. Then they have enough faith in the future to act and keep trying until they have made a difference.
Edison explained some of this faith when he stated, “My philosophy of life is work. Bringing out the secrets of Nature and applying them for the happiness of man—I know of no better service to render during the short time we are in this world.” He was motivated by his faith and hope that we would be able to make the world a better place for everyone. As we have studied the lives of innovators this is a central theme. They want to make the world a better place, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in large ways.
The real secret to this time of the year is the willingness to recognize the real source of power for innovation and success. Take time this time of year to reflect on the good things in the world and how you can make it even better. Your gift this Christmas may just be a better understanding of yourself and your motivations. Your happiness and success may not be based on what you have, but on what you believe. Steve Forbes explained this secret gift this way, “The real source of wealth and capital in this new era is not material things. it is the human mind, the human spirit, the human imagination, and our faith in the future.”