Thursday, April 30, 2015

Free Enterprise Finds A Better Way

"Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.  The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.  There's a way to do it better - find it."

Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931)

Therein lies the crux of free enterprise.  Trying just one more time, and doing it better.

And this thought came from an individual who thrived on doing it better.

Thomas Edison had far more "inventions" and patents that were improvements of other inventions and patents than he did original inventions and patents.  He simply found a way to do it better.

He thrived on learning how "it" was not to be done, so he could find a way to do "it" period.

He thrived on the idea that "it" involved very little inspiration and a lot of perspiration.

Edison's version of creative destruction was through creative improvement and reinvention.  At his Menlo Park, New Jersey laboratory, he assembled an international team of engineers, a glass blower, mathematician, a Swiss clockmaker, carpenters, machinists, business professionals and secretaries, and put together a small factory he referred to as his "invention factory."

And they worked, at creative destruction through creative redesign.

Not that they didn't invent new things!  They did!  His original design for the light bulb socket is still in use today.  And not many things have been more creatively destroyed and reinvented over the years than the light bulb.  He found a zillion ways NOT to do it, and then found the first real way to do it.  And things went from there.

This is the essence of what you get if free enterprise would be boiled down.  What would be left in the pot would be this idea of trying things one more time, and finally doing something better.

The freedom, and free market, to do so is the catalyst of what makes it happen.

Edison's good friend, Henry Ford, found the Menlo Park work to be so important that he had Edison's lab buildings reconstructed in Dearborn, Michigan, from drawings and with some of the original materials, so that people could see in museum form what it was in which so much new thought and rethought took place.

His thinking and rethinking of things began as a very young child.  His favorite word seems to have been, "Why?"  If people could not answer his questions, or if they did not know how something worked, he would ask why.  Most found this persistence to be arrogant and aggravating.

A teacher at his school lost patience with this persistent questioning pronounced him "addled."  Addled, or confused, was not something that pertained to Thomas Edison.  He was merely an investigator, and would today be diagnosed with some form of "special need,"  and prescribed some drug to "help" his condition.  Of course, he needed no such "help."

His mother, recognizing his frustration and the frustration of his teacher(s) withdrew Thomas from school.  Long before it was popular, and this is the 1850s, she began home schooling him.  Her technique?  Let Thomas investigate.  She taught him from the Bible, his father gave him a dime for every classic he completely read, and Thomas was allowed his passion during school - he loved to read and recite poetry, and study world history, English literature and Shakespeare. 

At 11 he was taught how to use the local library and he spent his days there.  His eventual interest in mathematics and science lead his parents to realize they would be unable to help him further and they hired a private tutor.  The tutor could really only encourage Thomas's voracious ability to analyze and investigate.

In addition to school he began working at age 12 selling newspapers and candy at a local commuter train station.  At 14, using news from the local teletype machine, he published his own weekly newspaper, selling it to a group of 300 devoted commuters who purchased it regularly.  It was the first known type-set publication sold to train commuters in the country.

Taught Morse Code, he soon became exceptionally competent at telegraphy.  In fact, at 16 years of age, his first invention was what he called the "automatic repeater," a device that could send transmissions from station to station and allowed others to more easily translate the Morse Code clicks at their own speed.   He never patented that first invention!

Edison's whole life was spent "finding a better way."  He epitomized the quote above.  He never failed to try things just one more time, and find a better way.  In that he epitomized free enterprise.

Free enterprise finds a better way.

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