Edison Sheds Light on a Key Quality of Innovators

Health Innovations Lessons From The Life of Thomas EdisonMost people believe that Thomas Alva Edison invented the electric light bulb. This isn’t true, but for all practical purposes, it might as well be. While working electric light bulbs had been demonstrated as early as 1800 in laboratory conditions, Edison was the first to develop an electric light bulb that could be manufactured and operated efficiently enough to be attractive for municipalities, businesses and, later, families.

Patents and Inventor Services for Healthcare InnovatorsOf course, Thomas Edison invented much more than the electric light bulb. By the time of his death in 1931, he held 1,093 United States patents and several in England, Germany, and France as well. These include the phonograph (his first significant invention), a motion picture camera, and numerous other inventions that revolutionized the electric and communications industries. One of the companies he developed, General Electric, is still a major business force in the world today.

But for all of his multitude of successes, both in inventing and business, Edison’s path to success was fraught with many “failures”. Attributing his stubborn drive to push through failures and succeed to his Dutch heritage, Edison refused to accept failure as final. Through a combination of doggedly pursuing his goals to the end and a willingness to see success even in his failures (many of his patented inventions were developed while he was working on a product that was intended to do something entirely different) the “Wizard of Menlo Park” persevered to become the most famous inventor in modern history.

The incandescent light bulb for which he is most famous probably illustrates his perseverance better than anything else. Far from an instant success, Edison spent nearly a year trying dozens of filament materials and other variations of the light bulb before he had developed a product worth patenting. Even then, the light bulb’s “long life” was about thirteen hours. Altogether, it took over two years, and literally thousands of failed experiments, before Edison put together the right combination of bamboo filament, vacuum pressure, and other factors that enabled the first practical electrical incandescent light bulb to reach a marketable life of 1,200 usage-hours. Two years later, the bulbs were first used in public buildings, and within two decades, electric lighting had taken over the world, fulfilling Edison’s prediction that he would make electric lighting so affordable that only wealthy people would burn candles.

If you have an idea that you’ve shelved because someone laughed… or it seemed impractical… or didn’t work like you thought it would… maybe it’s time to bring it back down, look it over, tweak it a bit, and try again. It might take several, or even dozens of attempts, but if it’s a good idea, act on it… You never know when a little tweak or a new connection could produce something that changes the face of the healthcare.

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