When we talk about overcoming failure in pursuit of success, one of the first names that we are reminded of is Thomas Edison. Edison is one of America’s most famous inventors of all-time, having been the inventor of the first commercially viable electric light bulb. Today, thanks to Thomas Edison’s version of the light bulb, we can freely enjoy electricity and illumination at night without having to use unsustainable materials like candles and oil.
Success, however, did not come to Thomas Edison so easily. In fact, when asked about his journey, he says his most famous quote: “I have not failed 10,000 times – I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” What’s striking about Edison was that he didn’t see giving up as an option, but instead saw failure as an opportunity to learn and do better.
One of his first failures was his automatic vote recorder. It was his first patented invention. It allowed officials who were voting on a bill to cast their votes to a central tallying machine which will automatically calculate the vote counts. When he pitched this to officials, however, he was met with a very cold response. Political leaders said no because they thought that the device would disallow political leaders to continue the political maneuvering that happens in the legislative process. This proved an early lesson for him, teaching him to not make inventions that didn’t have a market who would find use in it.
The second invention he thought of was the Electric Pen. Edison invented this pen because businesses were booming and so was the need for multiple copies of handwritten documents. What the electric pen did was punch holes on paper as an employee wrote, as if to create a stencil, which they can then use to roll over ink and produce multiple copies of the document. Again, his invention was rejected because it was too noisy and bulky, and employees kept encountering problems with its batteries.
Thereafter, Edison had more inventions before he got it right with the light bulb. He invented the tinfoil phonograph, which proved to be a huge success after a decade of trial and error with its marketing. He invented the talking doll, which were dolls that had mini-phonographs in them, only to be quickly recalled later on, because the dolls were too fragile and the voices were too creepy. He also invented ore mills, a failed attempt that Edison was unable to let go of for 10 years.
It was only in 1879 when Thomas Edison finally hit home run with his version of the light bulb. At that time, light bulbs have been already invented, but Edison is the one who made it available for everyone on a mass scale because of its affordability and practicality. He was able to create a product that was useful for everyone, while at the same time was produced at minimum cost because the filament he used was sustainable but inexpensive. It was only after 6,000 tests of possible materials that Edison’s team was able to find one that fit: carbonized bamboo.
Undoubtedly, Thomas Edison is one of the greatest minds and inventors in recent history. But he did not do this overnight – or in a decade, for that matter. He did it through sheer hard work, and a spirit that was impervious to failure.