Famed American inventor Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” This is the guy that invented the light bulb. Just think about that for a second. The light bulb. The device you’re reading this on probably wouldn’t exist without Mr. Edison’s never give up attitude. Be very careful though. One could easily be lead in the wrong direction by conflating his persistence with his perseverance.
So many famous and wealthy people are often telling us that persistence is the key to success. That’s a very dangerous statement. Here’s why; Have you ever watched Shark Tank and cringed or dropped your jaw after hearing how much time and money some people wasted on bad ideas? Those people are persistent. You don’t want to be those people. Let’s look at the two definitions for more clarity. Courtesy of Merriam Webster.
1: to go on resolutely or stubbornly in spite of opposition, importunity, or warning
2 obsolete: to remain unchanged or fixed in a specified character, condition, or position
3: to be insistent in the repetition or pressing of an utterance (such as a question or an opinion)
4: to continue to exist especially past a usual, expected, or normal time
To persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counter influences, opposition, or discouragement.
At first look, this is a bit confusing. Persist is actually part of the definition of perseverance. But, if you use the Shark Tank metaphor again this all comes together nicely. In fact, let’s put Edison in “The Tank” shall we? Let’s change the date as well. Instead of right now, lets put him in the mid 19th Century.
So Thomas Edison comes into the room and all the Sharks are staring him down. After a few seconds, their stoic faces come alive and laughter fills their bellies. This is Tom’s second time on the show. They remember him.
The first time he came on he was pitching his Electric Vote-Recording Machine. It was a great invention, but ahead of its time. Speeding up the voting process would throw a monkey wrench in the campaign strategies of politicians on both sides. They “regularly relied upon the brief delays that were provided by the process of manually counting votes to influence and hopefully change the opinions of their colleagues”.
Instead of being ‘persistent’ and stubbornly trying to sell something that the buyers didn’t want, he shifted gears. He didn’t stop inventing, but he did change his way of thinking. A light bulb went off….literally. Now standing in front of The Sharks in awe of this “electric lamp” he tells his story of ‘perseverance’.
Tom knew he was a good inventor, but he was also a broke inventor. For him to continue his passion he would have to invent something that people would buy. Had he just been ‘persistent’ and stayed the course, trying to sell something that couldn’t be sold at the time, he’d probably have died of starvation. Instead, he came up with a sure thing and ‘persevered’ through the obstacles that attempted to defeat him.
There’s nothing wrong with persistence if it’s used correctly. Stubbornly trying something again and again in an attempt to reach a preferred goal works a lot better when you are pretty sure you have the correct tools and strategy necessary to reach that goal. In other words, the dedication will only get you so far. To make sure you aren’t wasting your time and money you have to incorporate a certain amount of logic into the equation.
“The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are, first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense.”
― Thomas A. Edison