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How to Think Like Thomas Edison

Updated on October 17, 2017
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Ephantus is a personal development coach and blogger at kidsandmommies

Thomas Alvas Edison


Human beings are born with great potential to create, learn and solve problems. Unfortunately, very few people ever rise above the average to tap the latent potential within them. However, the few who rise above mediocrity and refuse to be bound by the norms established by the society make discoveries that baffle the world. Such was the case of Thomas Edison, the man credited with perfecting the light bulb you are using today. Here is how to think like a genius, just like him:

We often miss opportunity because it's dressed in overalls and looks like work

— Thomas Edison

Generate many ideas

Edison held that the only way you could come up with great ideas was by brainstorming and coming up with many ideas. For him, quantity gives way to quality. To make sure that there were many ideas floating around, he always set idea targets for his staff. And unlike most CEOs who assign quotas for others and none for themselves, Edison’s target was 1 small invention every ten days and 1 major invention every 6 months.

While most people know that Edison is the man behind the light bulb, few people know that this major invention did not come overnight. It actually took more than 9000 failed attempts to get the right combination for the light bulb. And it took more than 50,000 experiments before the alkaline cell battery he was trying to create worked.

According to Edison, genius consists of 99 perspiration and 1 percent inspiration. He held that creativity is not about sitting down and letting others do all the hard work while you take the credit. Instead, it is about good, hard and honest work. And for every bright invention he came up with, there were hundreds, probably thousands of other ideas that failed dismally.

To increase your idea production, you must make a conscious effort. Making a conscious effort is hard work and most people loathe working hard. As you exert your effort, you will come up with many ideas. In the beginning, your ideas will be low quality, however, with time, your ideas will get clearer until they are crystal clear. As you stretch your imagination beyond the common possibilities, you will eventually stumble upon an idea that may look or sound ridiculous but it may save the world.

Thomas Edison is credited with perfecting light bulb


Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.

— Thomas Edison

Think out of the box

Want to think like a genius? Learn to think out of the box and challenge assumptions. By the time Edison turned 13, he had already dropped out of school. Rather than use his educational difficulties as an excuse, Edison perceived them as a blessing since they allowed him to work on his inventions with fewer assumptions compared to his more educated counterparts.

Edison approached every experience or idea enthusiastically and was never afraid of trying out absurd ideas including designing needles for the phonograph out of rain forest nuts. At some point he even clamped his teeth on a phonograph horn to help him hear and feel the vibrations via his jaw. This unfettered, enthusiastic approach drove him to challenge assumptions that had been held for years by scholars.

Edison usually frowned upon too much education. According to him, it corrupted people’s way of thinking by conditioning them to think along certain basic assumptions. As a result, people were unable to comprehend and appreciate most of the possibilities in life.

This ability to challenge assumptions probably helped him to create a practical lighting system even when experts said it could not be done. During those days, scientific experts frowned upon wiring circuits in parallels or using high resistance filaments to produce light since these were seen as incompatible. Edison was not bound by basic assumptions, so he embarked on an experiment to show that it was possible for such a system to work.

Edison had a unique way of hiring his staff since he knew that the people who worked with him influenced his creativity a lot. Whenever he needed to hire an assistant, he invited the potential candidate for a meal. If the candidate seasoned the meal before tasting it, he did not hire the person. According to Edison, a person who assumed that the soup was not seasoned even before tasting it had too many built-in assumptions and could not be trusted to work along him since he always sought to think out of the box.

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

— Thomas Edison

Learn from your mistakes

Most people are familiar with inventions that made Edison famous, but few know about his many failed experiments. Whenever an experiment failed, the inventor would seek to find out what caused the failure and would record the lessons he had learned from the experiment. His notebooks were full of lesson he had learned from the many abortive ideas he had embarked on.

One day, an assistant asked him why he never gave up experimenting with different filaments for the light bulb even after he had failed more than a thousand times. In response, Edison said that he did not understand the question since he had not failed once. Rather, he had found out how not to make a functional light bulb. And he went on to complete the patent for the incandescent light bulb that won him global acclaim.

Edison was highly talented in reworking ideas that had failed in one field and making them work in a different field. In 1900, the iron-ore mining venture he had invested in started crumbling and was almost bankrupt. Edison spent a couple of days looking at the company’s resources. Eventually, he came up with strategy on how the company’s efforts could be redirected to make Portland cement. The company would use the same materials, same equipment and the existing systems used in the iron-ore venture to distribute cement.

Improve your ideas constantly

Contrary to popular belief, Edison was not the person who invented the incandescent light bulb used today. Rather, he perfected it as a consumer product. And he did not just perfect the bulb, his inventions were instrumental in the breakthrough that led to the making of transmitters used in telephones. Edison took the unsuccessful ideas of making an undersea cable and incorporated them into a design that led to a transmitter that modified the sound waves in the caller’s voice. His technique became the basic standard for the modern-day telephony.

When all is said and done, if you intend to master the art of how to think like a genius, you must start somewhere by generating many ideas and keep working hard to improve your ideas. There is no guarantee that you will not fail but when you do, avoid giving up. Over time as you keep learning from your mistakes and thinking out of the box, you will eventually stumble upon a life-changing idea. Ultimately, your goal should not be to become another Thomas Edison, but to make a discovery that can make the world a better place.

© 2017 Ephantus


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    • Peggasuse profile image


      16 months ago from Indiana, USA

      People who create new things, I believe, are inspired by some higher form of intelligence that they can't explain. I've read bios about scientists who were trying to solve a certain problem that seemed to not have an answer. So they slept on it over night and in the morning, the answer "dawned" on them.

      What is that if not inspiration? Where does that come from? Maybe it comes from the inventor's own mind. He has the answer but it doesn't surface until he relaxes enough to let it.

      I think we are all smarter than we think we are. I think that a lot of us never use enough of our brain to do anything significant because we don't think we can. I think the answer to that is to reassure yourself that you are as smart as anyone. And just like a garden, you need to cultivate your brain by challenging it to work on more difficult problems. I believe that anyone who puts enough effort into something, will succeed. You just have to keep trying.

      And by the way, Thomas Edison did NOT invest the light bulb. He owned his own company and employed people who used their ingenuity to invent things that Edison took credit for. He wasn't interested in inventing things to help people. He was only interested in making money.

      If you do a little research on the internet, you'll discover that all this is unfortunately true. From what I could find, the only thing that Edison ever had a hand in inventing was the electric chair....


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