Thomas Edison’s Top 5 Tips for Success

Thomas Alva Edison was one of the most famous and hard-working inventors in history. When he died in 1931 he held 1093 patents in his name (though a lot of his inventions were collaborations).

Some of his most used inventions are of course the light bulb and the gramophone.

He also did quite a bit work to improve x-ray machines for while (until he almost lost his own eye-sight and an assistant died due to radiation poisoning). And he had a AC/DC-current war with the odd and fascinating inventor Nikola Tesla.

Here are a few of my favourite tips from Edison. They are all about success. And what kind of work and mindset achieving such a thing may require.

“Many of life's failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

One of the problems in life is that people just give up too soon. I think quite a big bit of this because of social programming and the expectations set by society. It's seen as pretty normal to try once or maybe a few times and then give up.

There is also a ton of products, books and commercials that promises us that we can “Earn 20000 dollars in just 4 weeks” or “Easily lose 30 pounds in 30 days!”.

And we hear these messages over and over throughout life.

No wonder it's easy to fall into the trap of believing that everything should work out after about three tries or so.

When the promise of a quick fix is sold to us all the time and people around us are buying into it then it becomes easy just do the same thing. And align our expectations of the world around how things “should” work rather than how they work.

If one does not give up so quickly but tries perhaps 20-30 times or more there is a pretty good chance that success will come. If one keeps at it for not 3 weeks but 6 months then the likelihood of success often increases.

If not, then you may spend a lot of time in a cycle where you try a new quick fix, get discouraged quickly and give up, spend some cash on the next quick fix and getting overly enthusiastic and then continue the cycle by jumping from one magic bullet to another, never achieving much of a result.

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

Now, how do you reframe failure? How do you look at it so you don't feel overwhelmed and give up? Well, you can look at failure as a part of a process. You look at it as ways that won't work. You draw lessons from those ways. Then you let that go, focus on the present and try again (this time perhaps in a different way).

If you look at failure as something big, like it's the end of the world you'll probably be quite a bit afraid of it. And so it can feel too painful to go on after a few failures. Or you may never even try, since your mind is projecting all these horrible and painful future scenarios of what will happen if you try and fail.

Also, if you come from a place of abundance then failure has less power over you. Failure can be really useful if you learn to redefine it for yourself. The key is to develop an abundance mentality – where there is always an abundance of opportunities – instead of a more common scarcity mentality where there is always a lack. If you start to think about your world this way failure becomes less painful and the fear of missteps lessens.

Because with an abundance mentality you believe that there are more good opportunities out there even if you experience failure. So you are less inclined to give into fear and to pull away from taking a chance.

Failure still hurts even if you think about things this way. But then you think about what you can learn from the failure. And then you start over again. And in retrospect you often discover that your previous failure provided some very useful, perhaps even necessary lessons, for your latest project to grow as well as it does.

This way – seeing it as a process and have an abundance-mentality – is one way to reframe failure to keep yourself from giving up. If you look at it this way you'll be less prone to lie down and just give up.

“The value of an idea lies in the using of it.”

Useful information is good. But you have to put it to use sometime or you'll never reap any benefits or success. This is a pretty common problem when you for instance get interested in personal development. You get a lot of books, programs etc. and you study them. And then you get more.

Always looking for the magic bullet that will give you success without you having to do anything. Confusing yourself and feeling like you are making progress by reading another book.

That emotional high is dangerous because it can fool you into thinking that things are progressing.

But then a few months later nothing much has happened, except you have a lot of knowledge (and have probably forgotten half of it because your mind couldn't retain it because you weren't putting it into action). To get results you need to take action. That's also the best way to really understand the information you have absorbed and possibly find ways to tweak and use it in an even better way for yourself.

“Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.”

But just going for it, taking action and doing something isn't enough. You have to ask yourself if what you are doing is useful? Or is it just another way to keep yourself busy, to keep yourself from doing what you really want to do?

You need to think about what you really want to do. You need to make plans. Then throughout your normal day you can remind yourself, by for instance using external reminders like written notes, to stay on track. To not get lost on the wrong track or in the busywork that is perhaps a normal routine or an easy escape from the things you'd like to do but that require more perspiration.

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

There is a myth that geniuses mostly just are geniuses and can do great things pretty much as easily as you and I tie our shoelaces. But what is seldom mentioned or seen is how much the really successful people work. And how far the people that just practise, practise, practise can go.

I think natural talent certainly plays a role. But I also think that it can become an excuse to slack off and never come close to your potential. To find something you can become really, really good at – perhaps even be regarded as genius at – I think you need to find something you really, really like to do. Otherwise, your inner motivation and passion will run out and you'll probably show up less and less. Until you one day just give it up.

Maybe it wasn't the thing for you. Maybe you grew apart from it.

And if that happens then you can try to find another thing that you really, really like to do.

About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehack, The Huffington Post and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • This was really inspiring. I especially like the optimism.

    Great article.

  • We’ve all heard these famous quotes before, but it sure is great to hear them again. I am horrible at being negative. I even get my wife and mother both saying that I’m too negative. Ugh! Will make a concerted effort to be MORE positive! Thanks for the great post!

  • AbdelRahman

    wonderful article.
    I like especially the last point.
    I copied all of the quotes by hand to my journal in order to remind myself of them more often.

  • This post definitely attracted me. I’ve just submit my guest post to related what you can learn from Thomas Edison too.

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

    This is probably what you should remind of yourself for your blogging or internet business journey. There must be a way for you in order to succeed.

  • Michael Brady

    How about “The Five Tips for Success” from Nikola Tesla’s perspective ;-)

  • Very true, especially how the geniuses also work hard for it. I remember back in my martial arts classes, the instructor was doing a crazy move and made it look so effortless and fast.

    We were all wowed, and thought he was some physical prodigy, until he told us that it really was a very hard move, and his muscles were straining just as hard – but he spent hours and hours on that one move alone.

    Albert | UrbanMonk.Net
    Modern personal development, entwined with ancient spirituality.

  • Chris

    Edison definitely exemplified how to be persistent.

    Especially if it involved electrocuting a bunch of dogs, cats, the occassional elephant, and a prisoner or two.

    He was a jerk who would stop at nothing to make a buck.

  • shane

    Its ture just keep at it and dont give up there is alway a way

  • Whenever a goal has come to me too easily, I lost everything I could have learned from the struggle and I had no deep appreciation for the achievement. When I stumbled, I learned. When I experience setbacks, I have to readjust my purpose for pursuing the goal – and if I can’t fall back on “I do it because I love the topic and I love the process”, then I might as well stop. But if I keep going, failure becomes insignificant. Learning really is all about turning “cocksure ignorance into thoughtful uncertainty”. I’d rather be uncertain and I’d rather talk to people who are uncertain. It is a symbol of an open and flexible mind.
    I especially liked “Seeming to is not doing”. And your point that, at the end of the day, you just simply have to like doing it.

  • Nice post. Just started my blog 3 months ago and it is good to read a post like this.


  • One of the biggest mistakes we make is ‘not finishing what we start’. All of the successful people that I know finish what they start. This is one of the reasons they are successful.

  • This is great advice! Thats wisdom right there.

  • Great man, ‘Enlightning’ :)

    All the Best,

  • staying positive has always helped me not only to be on peoples’ good side all the time, but sometimes even faking positivity can result in genuine optimism. it’s exactly like when you smile if you feel angry. when you smile, you release endorphins that actually make you happy! that’s why you feel good when you smile. (that sounded redundant.. sorry.)

    i immediately thought of my brother when i started reading this. he has turned himself into such a victim of his own failures. that boy has held more jobs and attended the first quarter of more colleges than any person i have ever met. i mean, i’ve heard of peoples’ unsuccess stories and changing their mind, but my brother takes the cake. he says he just can’t find anything he likes, so he just quits. i told him that NOBODY likes going to school (except those crazy overachievers…) and NOBODY likes going to work (except those crazy-lucky people who have an awesome job). he just has this mentality that things SHOULD be a certain way, and when they aren’t, he gets discouraged. i also told him that if he just puts his mind to it and works toward the goal of finishing something, he will feel sooo much better about himself and will be less likely to “fail” in the future.

  • Loved the post! Great stuff!

    Edison was great! :)