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What Bill Gates Learned from Thomas Edison

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What Gates likes about Edison:

Obviously, Edison’s inventions were revolutionary. But as this book makes clear, the way he worked was also crucial for his success. For example, Edison consciously built on ideas from predecessors as well as contemporaries. And just as important, he assembled a team of people—engineers, chemists, mathematicians, and machinists—that he trusted and empowered to carry out his ideas. Names like Batchelor and Kruesi may not be famous today, but without their contributions, Edison might not be either.

Second, Edison was a very practical person. He learned early on that it wasn’t enough to simply come up with great ideas in a vacuum; he had to invent things that people wanted. That meant understanding the market, designing products that met his customers’ needs, convincing his investors to support his ideas, and then promoting them. Edison didn’t invent the light bulb; he invented the light bulb that worked, and the one that sold.

Finally, Edison recognized that inventions rarely come in a single flash of inspiration. You set a goal, measure progress using data, see what’s working—and what isn’t working—adjust your plan, and try again. This process can be very frustrating because it means running into a lot of dead ends. But each dead end tells you something useful. As Edison famously said, “I have not failed 10,000 times. I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.”

Leave it to Bill Gates to focus on the good instead of the greed and intimidation -- see below.

By the way, Edison was not a great human being.

He was greedy, petty, and an absolute jerk to Tesla:

Simply put Edison (with a few other moguls on his side) didn’t want to see Tesla’s Alternate Current succeed, because it posed a (fiscal) threat to the viability of his Direct Current (which Tesla had previously souped up for him). A bitter public battle took place, with George Westinghouse of the Westinghouse Company on Tesla’s side. Edison sought to use spineless scare tactics to convince the public his AC units weren’t safe. In order to “prove” this “fact,” he had a number of animals electrocuted, including a circus elephant (which was to be put to death for killing a some people). Ultimately, Tesla won this “War of Currents,” only because he indeed had the better power mechanism. Although the current of success swept into a place of high regard, he forewent obscene wealth so as to–in a show of unprecedented humility–save the Westinghouse Company (which would have gone broke with the royalty payments). Instead, Tesla made a few grand by just selling his patents outright.

Tesla was a good man. Edison was ambitious but he was not a good man. | Infographic: Transparency: The Origins of Electricity, Tesla vs. Edison

Edison invented the electric chair just to get back at Tesla:

Edison was known for his intimidation tactics (e.g. he used to hire a bunch of goons to smash technology and make sure he got his dues for his patents), but never did it get so bad as with his campaign against Tesla; he went so far as to invent the electric chair, using Tesla’s AC power to have a man on death row executed. The event was gruesome and messy, drawn out. George Westinghouse was quoted to have said, “They would have done better using an axe.” And so the first execution by electric chair took place, just to prove Tesla wrong (and preserve Edison’s financial stakes).

Tesla died broke and lonely, while Edison died wealthy and with great self-esteem.

Very true.  And hopefully nobody is missing the bald fact that Elon Musk named his revolutionary car and company Tesla, not Edison ...

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