thought about what you want to celebrate 12 months from now.
Perhaps you’ve even declared a New Year’s resolution or two that will become new habits in support of your stated goal.
Perhaps you believe all of this reflection, planning, and goal-setting is wasted effort.
right. Or perhaps you’ll be inspired by Thomas Edison—an inspirational leader for
the ages whose patent for the light bulb was approved 140 years ago this month.
“Genius,” said Edison, “is one percent inspiration and 99 percent
As you think about how you’ll light up 2020, consider the sacrifices and mindset required to bring your dream to reality. “Many of life’s failures,” believed Edison, “are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”
Try, Try and Try Again
was Steve Jobs there was Thomas Edison.
1,093 patents in the United States and a total of 2,332 patents worldwide for
the phonograph, the microphone, the movie camera and a precursor to a
modern-day tattoo pen. He received his first patent for an electric vote
recorder when he was 22 years old.
opportunity everywhere. “Opportunity is missed by most people,” said Edison,
“because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
Far from being an
absent-minded dreamer, Edison realized that developing and commercializing
ideas that could change the world required continuous learning, focus and
persistence. Edison’s inventions had a widespread impact on the modern
Developing the first
light bulb was tedious work.
Edison spent most of 1879 testing more than 6,000 different materials to discover the best material for this application. Failure occurred daily. Rather than become discouraged and quit, Edison proclaimed, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
guided by four principles today’s leaders can embrace:
- Never get discouraged if you fail. Learn from it. Keep trying.
- Learn with both your head and hands.
- Not everything of value in life comes from books—experience the world.
- Never stop learning.
failures to harness incandescent light, Edison and his team determined that a
carbonized bamboo filament could burn for over 1,200 hours, making it the best
option for his light bulb invention.
greatest weakness,” believed Edison, “lies in giving up. The most certain way
to succeed is always to try just one more time.”
As with any
idea or new concept—no matter how remarkable—there’s always room for improvement.
Edison was a
lifelong learner. For him as for other inspirational leaders, invention was merely the
first step in a process of continuous improvement. “There’s
a way to do it better,” Edison would challenge his team. “Find it.”
Indeed, his selection
of bamboo as the material for the filament was later replaced by longer-lasting
Edison possessed an encyclopedic memory and used it to test the aptitude of job seekers wishing to join his team of inventors. He believed discovery occurred when inventers connected dots between disparate facts, observations and other data. He famously asked each applicant 146 pre-selected questions to test the scope of their learning, knowledge, and ability to recall arcane facts under pressure.
Then as now, inspirational leaders ask questions of themselves and others to develop and nurture a culture of curiosity that can propel individuals, teams, and enterprises to new heights.
In the newly
revised and expanded edition of my book That’s A Great Question, I offer more
than 1,000 questions in 20 different categories such as communication, time
management, talent + teamwork, risk and accountability that the continuous
learners I work with consider regularly.
solve problems. Great leaders ask questions because they know asking great questions:
- Builds confidence
- Nurtures trust
- Spurs growth
- Affirms purpose
- Unleashes potential
never did anything by accident,” said Edison, “nor did any of my inventions
come by accident; they came by work.”
we achieve are undergirded by the support of other inspirational leaders.
became known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” he benefited from years of prior
development and experimentation conducted by other inventors. Long before
Edison patented the first commercially successful light bulb, Italian inventor
Alessandro Volta developed the first practical method of generating electricity—the
voltaic pile. Edison perfected Volta’s invention.
achieved limited success with the modern-day light bulb. Humphry Davy created
the first electric lamp, Warren de la Rue developed a light bulb using a coiled
platinum filament and Joseph Swan enhanced the light bulb with carbonized paper
filaments. None of these inventions, however, were practical or cost effective.
identified the problems with these inventions and solved them to develop the
light bulb we know today. Who knows how much longer it would’ve taken Edison to
develop his light bulb had it not been for those who came before him?
Today’s inspirational leaders in
the workplace shine a light on the talent around them to fully tap individual
and organizational potential.
we did all the things we are capable of,” said Edison, “we would literally
left his mark on the world through his far-reaching inventions.
How are you
making your mark in the workplace? What other inspirational leaders can you look to for guidance?
While few of us
are modern-day Edisons, today’s leaders make an impact on those around them. If
you’re expecting great things in the year ahead and aren’t entirely sure how you
and your team will light up 2020, please contact me for a free consultation.
“What you are,” said Edison, “will show in what you do.”