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Edison and Tesla – Experts Weigh in

It seems somewhat fashionable today, especially among young folks, to believe Thomas Edison took unfair advantage of Tesla … but it’s not true. The experts and archivists at the Thomas Edison National Historical Park in West Orange, NJ cannot find anything on file to indicate acrimonious exchanges between these two great inventors. For a brief period of months, Tesla worked for Edison at one of his New York City shops on a specific project, and when that project was closed down, Tesla left. He did not even work directly for Edison. Somehow, the conspiracy theories continue to grind out all sorts of terrible things that Edison was purported to have done.

Edison versus Tesla: The Truth Behind the Edison/Telsa Controversy as Discussed by Experts

A very well documented book [Tesla: Inventor of the Electrical Age] by W. Bernard “Bernie” Carlson, noted technology author and professor at the University of Virginia, carefully analyzes this complex man. Consider some salient points Carlson makes about one of America’s first celebrity scientists.

Tesla was an astute self-promoter and gifted showman who cultivated a memorable and dramatic public image as an eccentric genius. He promoted his inventions by creating [fanciful and perhaps unrealistic] visions of future peace and prosperity. Unlike Edison, who started with an idea and drove it all the way through to establishing companies to manufacture his products- a classic vertically integrated entrepreneurial approach- Tesla preferred to patent, promote, and sell his inventions to investors and businessmen. What escaped Tesla was the need to do the nuts and bolts engineering, manufacturing optimization, and incremental improvements needed to make a product customer worthy.

Edison and Tesla saw the world very differently. Edison practiced what is called market-pull innovation, letting the demands of the customer drive the economics and such. Tesla practiced knowledge-push innovation, creating a vision for his technology and selling it that way.

Tesla advocates, often young folks, tend to see Tesla as the ultimate geek, unsullied by profits and debased by the give and take of the business world.

In many ways we have a need to cast comparisons of Tesla and Edison as good versus evil, but Carlson shows it is just not that kind of comparison. They are two men who looked at the world of invention from two distinctly different standpoints. Both men helped propel a young America forward, stimulate technological development and instill in millions of Americans the benefits of technology. Both men…giants of the times … succeeded … and, that is really what we need to remember.

See for yourself in the video below what the experts say about these two giants of electricity. Bernie Carlson and Leonard DeGraaf, archivist at the Thomas Edison National Historic Park, recently shared the dais at the Mark Twain historic home in Connecticut to discuss the Edison-Tesla interactions. Enjoy.

Thomas Edison on Time MagazineThomas Edison said … “I never perfected an invention that I did not think about in terms of the service it might give others … I find out what the world needs, then I proceed to invent …”

Time ® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.

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Edison Could Work at Google!

Yeah baby, Thomas Edison could certainly work at Google. The notoriously imaginative and cutting edge company would welcome him with open arms, even though he never got past third grade before being educated at home by his mother.

In a bold interview with the New York Times, Google talked about what traits it looks for when hiring talent; and if colleges and high schools are listening, it might give them cause to re-consider how they teach tomorrow’s talent. Laszlo Bock, their senior VP of people operations lists five attributes – in this order – they look for in new hires; regardless of whether a candidate has a formal college degree or not:

  1. Learning ability-to process on the fly; to synthesize data/information from many sources [it’s not simply IQ]
  2. Emergent leadership-not traditional leadership; knowing when to lead and when to step back and follow others
  3. Working together to solve problems-owning the problem and dynamic teamwork
  4. Intellectual humility and knowing how to learn from failure
  5. Expertise is OK, but people with drive and desire can easily overcome this.

In the Google world, one’s college degree is not a guarantee of performing well on-the-job. It is not about what you know, but what you can do with what you know, i.e. the ability to find utility for great ideas and create wealth for the company; to help strategically position it to compete in a globally competitive world. If you can perform this kind of magic with what you know, Google does not care if your earned that ability behind a desk in college or working in the real world and never got a college degree.

Edison Could Work at Google!Thomas Edison thought this way about the talent he hired as well. Many a college educated man applying for a job at the legendary Edison West Orange Labs left disappointed when a non-college man, or technician, walked away with the job they had hoped to attain. Old Tom even had a controversial test he administered to whoever came seeking employment.

Tom’s mom, Nancy Elliot Edison, encouraged Tom to practice some simple rules, which he felt greatly aided his long life of uncommon success. She always impressed upon him:

  • Read, read, read … everything not just what you like. Appreciate all literature.
  • Do not be afraid to fail-learn from it. Keep trying.
  • Not everything that is valuable comes from books-experience the world.
  • Never stop learning!

We think Google would agree.

Tom’s experiments in his basement lab of the modest Milan, Ohio home he grew-up in was a source of trepidation for his father Samuel. There was plenty of noise, strange equipment, “pops and bangs”, and ever-present odors; but his normal-school-trained mother knew well the young man’s sense of curiosity and drive would soon find true direction … with some gentle encouragement. She certainly was right.

So Mr. Bock, when should Tom report for work? Might we suggest his mother may be available as well…maybe a kind of consultant role?

Check out Google’s doodle in celebration of Thomas Edison’s 164th birthday in 2011.

Thomas Edison on Time Magazine“Our schools are not teaching students to think. It is astonishing how many young people have difficulty in putting their brains definitely and systematically to work …”

Time® is a registered trademark of Time Inc.

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