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Learning from Great Masters

Inspiration vs. Perspiration: A Light Bulb Moment on Edison's Creative Genius

And Cross-Generational Collaboration

By Chris Dunmire | September 19, 2018

LightbulbThank goodness for Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931). This passionate man — credited with having a hand (some might say 'hand-lifted') in creating useful, life-changing inventions: the phonograph, light bulb, and telephone, along with having multiple electrical, mechanical, and chemical patents behind his name — left us with an incredible insight about genius (see Who First Studied Genius?).

Uttering just seven words, Edison couldn't fathom how future generations would hold his luminous life to high heaven while engraving his utterance into a famous quote about hard work and creativity during thousands of Toastmaster speeches, innovation seminars, brainstorming sessions, and invention collaborations. He said:

“Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration.”

Tom Ed

Continuous Improvements on the Typewriter

TypewriterThink about how far the typewriter has come since it was patented in 1714 by Britain's Henry Mill. At first it was a big clunky piece of mechanical machinery that made wordy compositions plain cumbersome and editing almost impossible. Now, three centuries later, the keystroke machine has become a standard, everyday communication device integrated nicely into computer apps and hardware that swiftly edits, cuts and pastes, and move entire blocks of text from one page, program, iPhone text, or tablet e-mail into another with ease. Spelling and grammar optional. R U srius? Yes I am!

‘Genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration,’ clearly shows us that without the follow-through of good 'ol elbow grease (hard work and sweat), even the best of ideas are ephemeral dreams.

Yes, there's a larger creative process at work that encompasses not only the flash of an idea (inspiration), but the added follow-through (perspiration) of planning, design, building, experimenting, testing, etc. to accomplish the end result. The follow-through indeed requires a lot of sweat. Maybe even blood and tears, if you break a lot of shardy bulbs in the process.

If you study Edison's life and work, you'll find his inventions were largely improvements made upon existing products. For example, he really didn't invent the first light bulb. He invented the first ‘commercially practical’ incandescent light, after the first light bulb was already invented. So building and improving upon existing ideas, what we call innovation today, was one of Edison's personal forms of creative genius.

in·no·vate verb make changes in something established, especially by introducing new methods, ideas, or products.

If you're curious about how all this plays out in real-time, you can gain an appreciation for the effortful 99% that goes into the creation and invention process by hanging out at a one or more of the crowdsourced product development communities online like Quirky or Kickstarter. Millions of inspirational ideas are submitted. Few are accepted. You may (or not) be surprised, however, at all the flash-in-the-pan 1% genius going on in these places followed by the certain echo of, “Hey, I could have invented that!”

in·gen·ious adjective (of a person) clever, original, and inventive.

Coming full circle on Edison's words in the realm of innovation, we've established that manifesting creative ideas after the initial zap of inspiration hits takes work. Some give credit to this zap as the source of all things and celebrate engaging in the cocreative process. As for Edison, ‘99% perspiration’ supports the host of intriguing inventions and innovations his laborious life helped produce for everyone's benefit today (not to mention a kick-butt quote for our collective consciousness).

Cross-Generation Collaboration

With added genius from today's growing number of collaborators and innovators, current ideas will be ripe for improvement tomorrow and beyond. This chain of 'standing on the shoulders of those who came before us' gives us the opportunity to prepare our own backs for those who will come after and appreciate our individual participation in this process. This cycle of creative life will continue generation after generation for the benefit of all.

Yes, the investment of our creative contributions today has the potential to yield great ideas and advancements in this cross-generational collaboration we're part of. Whether you are an artist, writer, inventor, or scientist, I invite you to take your seat at the table and celebrate this grand banquet of opportunity we have amongst good company!

©2007, 2015, 2018 Chris Dunmire. All rights reserved.