The great inventor Thomas Edison is one of the best examples of a successful state of mind. According to many popular stories, Thomas Edison was asked after several thousand attempts to invent the electric light bulb without success, how he would handle his failure. Edison stated that he had not failed, but rather had produced several thousand outcomes which would lead to success. Several thousand outcomes later Edison successfully produced the electric light bulb, whether consciously or unconsciously, Edison had to program his mind and body to channel his energy into a successful outcome.
A popular myth or a true story?
There are actually two documented variations of a quote by Edison where he downplayed his failures but focused on his success.
According to Rutgers, Myth Buster: Edison's 10,000 attempts, "The source of the story about Edison trying thousands of experiments or materials is probably an 1890 interview in Harper's Monthly Magazine."
The exact quote by Edison:
"I speak without exaggeration when I say that I have constructed three thousand different theories in connection with the electric light, each one of them reasonable and appears to be true. Yet only in two cases did my experiments prove the truth of my theory. My chief difficulty, as perhaps you know, was in constructing the carbon filament, the incandescence of which is the source of the light."
The Rutgers article also describes another quote by Edison in a 1910 biography as it relates to Edison's later work on storage batteries.
The book quotes Edison's friend and associate Walter S. Mallory:
"I said: 'Isn't it a shame that with the tremendous amount of work you have done you haven't been able to get any results?' Edison turned on me like a flash, and with a smile replied: 'Results! Why, man, I have gotten lots of results! I know several thousand things that won't work!'"
Edison's legacy was in creating his "invention factory" where Edison used his staff to develop ideas and turn them into patents. Some point to the concept of the invention factory as the reason for his success. Critics say Edison took his invention factory too far, and Edison took credit for any individual creativity by his employees.
How many inventions and innovations made in the name of Apple or Microsoft were not the direct work of Gates or Jobs? How is Edison getting credit for the work of his staff any different that a large number of engineers, designers, and programmers working for Microsoft or Apple, but all we hear about is the success of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs?
Edison was a systems thinker and a project manager. Edison took the image of an inventor as one man tinkering alone in a shop and turned it into an industry. He paid workers to conduct numerous tedious experiments so he did not have to do the boring manual tasks himself. I think that is pretty genius.
In our previous article, Why Do Technology Projects Fail? I state that one of the biggest challenges in information technology success is setting proper expectations. The goal is to focus technology conversations on the question, "What exactly is it that you are trying to do?"
Edison was focused on exactly what he wanted to accomplish, he had a specific destination in mind. Edison was focused on finding an answer to a problem, and he saw each unsuccessful experiment along the way not as a failure, but as one step closer to success.
Failure is an attitude, not an outcome
The reason some people never fail, they realize failure is not an outcome, it is a state of mind!<< In search of information and advice who do you trust Why Do Technology Projects Fail? >>
Tom Peracchio is not a university professor with a team of editors and advisers. He is one man who loves technology and history and tells stories to increase awareness, educate, and entertain. Support the efforts of Tom in developing the Guru 42 Universe by your small donation here at Buy me a coffee.