Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Thomas Edison on Success

From today's article on Mises.org, "How Thomas Edison Succeeded":

"What do you think is the first requisite for success in your field, or any other?"

"The ability to apply your physical and mental energies to one problem incessantly without growing weary."

"Do you have regular hours, Mr. Edison?" I asked.

"Oh," he said, "I do not work hard now. I come to the laboratory about eight o'clock every day and go home to tea at six, and then I study or work on some problem until eleven, which is my hour for bed."

"Fourteen of 15 hours a day can scarcely be called loafing," I suggested.

"Well," he replied, "for 15 years I have worked on an average of 20 hours a day."

When he was 47 years old, he estimated his true age at 82, since working only eight hours a day would have taken till that time.

Mr. Edison sometimes worked 60 consecutive hours upon one problem. Then, after a long sleep, he was perfectly refreshed and ready for another.

A Run for Breakfast

Mr. Dickson, a neighbor and familiar, gives an anecdote told by Edison that well illustrates his untiring energy and phenomenal endurance. In describing his Boston experience, Edison said he bought Faraday's works on electricity, commenced to read them at three o'clock in the morning and continued until his roommate arose, when they started on their long walk to get breakfast. That object was entirely subordinated in Edison's mind to Faraday, and he suddenly remarked to his friend: "'Adams, I have got so much to do, and life is so short, that I have got to hustle,' and with that I started off on a dead run for my breakfast."

"I've known Edison since he was a boy of 14," said another friend; "and of my own knowledge I can say he never spent an idle day in his life. Often, when he should have been asleep, I have known him to sit up half the night reading. He did not take to novels or wild-western adventures, but read works on mechanics, chemistry, and electricity; and he mastered them too. But in addition to his reading, which he could only indulge in at odd hours, he carefully cultivated his wonderful powers of observation, till at length, when he was not actually asleep, it may be said he was learning all the time."

Not by Accident and Not for Fun

"Are your discoveries often brilliant intuitions? Do they come to you while you are lying awake nights?" I asked him.

"I never did anything worth doing by accident," he replied, "nor did any of my inventions come indirectly through accident, except the phonograph. No, when I have fully decided that a result is worth getting, I go about it, and make trial after trial, until it comes.

"I have always kept," continued Mr. Edison, "strictly within the lines of commercially useful inventions. I have never had any time to put on electrical wonders, valuable only as novelties to catch the popular fancy."

"I Like It — I Hate It"

"What makes you work?" I asked with real curiosity. "What impels you to this constant, tireless struggle? You have shown that you care comparatively nothing for the money it makes you, and you have no particular enthusiasm for the attending fame. What is it? "

"I like it," he answered, after a moment of puzzled expression. "I don't know any other reason. Anything I have begun is always on my mind, and I am not easy while away from it, until it is finished; and then I hate it."

"Hate it?" I said.

"Yes," he affirmed, "when it is all done and is a success, I can't bear the sight of it. I haven't used a telephone in ten years, and I would go out of my way any day to miss an incandescent light."

Doing One Thing 18 Hours Is the Secret

"You lay down rather severe rules for one who wishes to succeed in life," I ventured," working 18 hours a day."

"Not at all," he said. "You do something all day long, don't you? Everyone does. If you get up at seven o'clock and go to bed at eleven, you have put in sixteen good hours, and it is certain with most men, that they have been doing something all the time. They have been either walking, or reading, or writing, or thinking. The only trouble is that they do it about a great many things and I do it about one. If they took the time in question and applied it in one direction, to one object, they would succeed.

"Success is sure to follow such application. The trouble lies in the fact that people do not have an object — one thing to which they stick, letting all else go. Success is the product of the severest kind of mental and physical application."

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

great post.... edison is a great example of a person who wouldnt let others tell him what he could or couldn't do he just did it.

George said...

Edison was certainly right about most people not applying themselves to one problem for long stretches of time. I've heard of writers who write in a "white heat" by putting words down until they collapse from exhaustion or they finish their piece. Taylor Caldwell, the novelist, was that way, and as I recall so was Mickey Spillane. Spillane could write a Mike Hammer detective novel in two weeks, sometimes less.