Thinking about Great Expectations

What can you expect from a fellow whose school career ended after a mere three months and ended with his teacher describing him as addled? What, really can you expect from a fellow who was home schooled by his mother with much of his reading focused on two books? Really, what can you expect from a fellow who moved from job to job, only to be fired from each?

Imagine someone so pig headed that he would get an idea in his head, and when the idea did not come to fruition after one thousand experimental attempts, the fellow just tried another thousand or two thousand or even three thousand times more!

I suspect that today we would label this addled fellow with attention deficit disorder and/or maybe obsessive compulsive disorder. Certainly the guy had some kind of dis-order.

And, truth be told, this fellow has indeed been labeled by many – this fellow Thomas Alva Edison, is the guy the world calls ‘the wizard of Menlo Park.’ He was probalby one of the greatest inventors our world has ever known. Over the course of his life, Thomas Alva Edison registered 1,093 patents. His inventions include the phonograph, the electric generator, fuel cell technology, a kinetographic camera making motion pictures possible, the alkaline battery, improved cement production, improvements on the telephone, and improvements on the electric light bulb to make it practical, Many of Edison’s inventions were improvements on earlier inventions that were interesting but not practical. Thomas Edison frequently said “I find out what the world needs. Then I go ahead and try to invent it.”

When Edison was asked about the many thousands of failed experiments in his laboratories, he is quoted as saying, “We have not failed, we have discovered many ways not to make whatever is the focus of our experiment.” Through his persistence through his many failures, which he understood as steps in the path to success, Thomas Edison worked his way up from being an impoverished, uneducated railroad worker to one of the most famous and financially successful men. In his lifetime, Edison became a working man’s folk hero. As history looks back on his contributions, Edison is credited with building the framework for modern technology and society in the age of electricity.

Yes, Edison held over a thousand patents, and produced many commercially successful inventions. And all of that was built on the foundation of thousands and thousands of failures. One of the keys to it all was his confident vision that success was on the horizon and he and his team were working their way along the path toward their goal. As one of my teachers once said to me, “You have not failed so much as you have begun to succeed.”

Be clear on your vision. Be true to your dream. Know that the road toward your goal is likely to be a long and winding road. Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow. Do your best. Learn each day. Treasure your frustrations as signposts for new areas to learning and growth. Edison brought us a framework for technology and electricity. We can be the vanguard ushering in a future of justice and human rights.

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