Sunday, November 7, 2010

Persistence: When to Give Up, When Not To

In the early 20th century, Thomas Edison was trying to develop a new storage battery, one that was small, light, cheap, durable, and quickly charged. When his first 10,000 attempts didn’t work, a friend showed sympathy for Edison’s failure. Edison replied, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” He persisted and eventually succeeded in creating a battery that was considered by some to be the greatest invention since the incandescent light bulb.

There are two lessons here: when to give up, and when not to.

Edison had a vision for what his battery would do for the world. He saw electric cars replacing horses and trolleys. He saw cheap electric power replacing steam boilers. He saw electric navigation being used for civilian and military purposes. The possibilities were endless. This was his vision, and he never gave up on it.

However, while Edison did not give up on his vision,
he very much did give up on 10,000 specific ways of realizing it. You could say that Thomas Edison was one of the biggest quitters in history.

When one particular method didn’t work, what do you think his response was? Do you think he kept trying the exact same thing over and over again, hoping that the laws of physics would eventually give in to him? Of course not! He noted what didn’t work, and moved on. He might have made other attempts using the same materials in different ways, or using the same techniques with different materials, but he knew that when something didn’t work, continuing to do that same thing wasn’t a viable option.

Edison’s first prototype that did what he wanted used nickel-iron cells and a potash electrolyte. If he had achieved the same results using entirely different materials, do you think that would have been acceptable to him? You bet! What was important was creating a battery that overcame the limitations of other batteries at the time, and made all kinds of practical applications possible. The nickel/iron/potash solution was simply a means of reaching that end, but he would have gladly accepted any other means that accomplished the same result.

Do you have a vision for your future? Hopefully you do, because as Yogi Berra said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.” Set your sights on what you want your life to be like. You’re free to change your mind whenever you want, but if you take the time to come up with a good vision, it won’t be changing drastically from one day to the next. Stay focused on the life you want, and don’t change your mind unless you decide that certain things aren’t as important to you as you once thought.

How will you make your vision a reality? Will you start out on one path, and head straight down that path until it reaches the glorious end? Not likely. The days when people were expected to work their entire lives at a single company are long gone. Nowadays, most people have 8 different jobs between the ages of 20 and 30. Throw in all the business ventures you might try, and this number will be even higher. And remember that a job or a business is not a static, unchanging process, but one that evolves over time and presents many possible ways of performing it. Altogether this means that you’ll probably try many different things before finding something that produces the desired result, which is your vision of the life you want for yourself.

Take a lesson from Edison: stay focused on where you want to go, but be flexible as to how you get there. 


Detective CheQ said...

Never Give Up!!!

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