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Thomas Edison

‘I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work’

‘Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration’

The story of how Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb is a lesson in business perseverance. The problem was creating the filament. Edison apparently made 10,000 attempts at getting the filament right, experimenting with paper, cotton and wood before he settled on bamboo. The quotation “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” came after a newspaper reporter asked what it felt like to be such a failure, as another lightbulb experiment failed.

However, before we feel too sorry for Thomas Edison, whose other inventions included the record player, we should remember that he was one tough customer, who hounded his electricity rival Nikolai Tesla, inventor of the superior AC current, and whose henchmen ruthlessly chased those using imitation Edison filmmaking cameras out of town – which is why so many filmmakers fled to California, out of reach of Edison’s knuckle-dusting goons and which is why we now have Hollywood.

Thomas Edison is also famous for his quote, “Genius is 1 per cent inspiration, and 99 per cent perspiration”, which he apparently uttered in 1902 although it didn’t make its way into print until the September 1932 edition of Harper’s Monthly Magazine.

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Tim Adler

Tim Adler is group editor of Small Business, Growth Business and Information Age. He is a former commissioning editor at the Daily Telegraph, who has written for the Financial Times, The Times and the...

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