I spent the morning doing something I vowed never to do.
I researched Thomas Alva Edison with an open mind.
For all that his journey is remarkable, by the end of my research, I’m not sure where I stand on his value as a man or measure. He is so oft-quoted as a pinnacle of tenacity with such quotes as:
“I have not failed 700 times. I’ve succeeded in proving 700 ways how not to build a lightbulb.”
“Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. ”
…but at what cost? He was the kind of businessman who thought nothing of taking credit for other’s work, was unkind to his employees, and was a “typical” entrepreneur/workaholic, spending more time at work than with his family.
Edison was kicked out of public school after 12 weeks (for what was likely ADD/ADHD), was nearly deaf as a child (and almost totally as an adult). Home-schooled and voracious about learning, he started his first business at 12 years old, sold his very first patent for $1.2M at the age of 22 and used that money to quit his day job and become a full-time inventor. He holds the record for the most patents (co-operatively with other inventors/employees) and is arguably one of the most influential Americans to usher in the industrial revolution. The man left a mark.
So does a branding iron.
Edison is The Old Way.
…A way that worked for a LOT of people; is STILL working for a lot of people.
But at what cost?
At what cost are we charging forward into the future?
At what cost are we trampling over our children’s futures?
Hustle is great. Hustle is necessary. Workaholics get shit done. I know. I lived it. My kids lived it. My marriage suffered under the weight of it until I smothered it to death.
Edison is the ultimate rags to riches story; a self-made man; ‘merica through and through.
Is he really the measuring stick we want to keep using? Is this workaholic-crush-our-competitors-burn-the-candle-at-all-the-ends-damn-the-cost what we want to model for our kids?
Or is there a better way?
Tesla certainly thought so. He wasn’t opposed to 20-hour workdays, but he made other life choices so he could — he moved across the ocean to where opportunity blossomed, he shunned marriage and children, he focused on his own work, his own patents, his own measure. While he was very aware of what his competitors were doing, he didn’t create to crush them, he created simply to create, to better the world, to see his ideas come to life.
Perhaps there is a middle-ground; one that incorporates family and health, work and play, competition and collaboration.
Building a legacy matters, but so, too, the way in which we build it.