I have not failed. I’ve just found 1,000 ways that don’t work.” Thomas Alva Edison.

What a wonderful mindset. This is what made Edison and other inventors successful; they had an idea which intuitively and logically they knew could work, and they didn’t stop until they were successful. How often I focus on my problems in finishing something, rather than keeping my eye on the prize: the successful completion despite the problems.

I have taken on a number of tasks where I had to try something over and over. Since I view many problems like puzzles that will go together with enough work, that gives me the challenge to proceed. Other times, the problem I’m having seems too great and I put it off, leave it unfinished, or abandon it. I can think of a number of tasks I’m in the middle of without a view to solving them, or the perseverance to do so, even if a solution may be found with more work. And then sometimes an idea just isn’t worth pursuing — discerning the difference can be hard.

250px-Sholes_typewriterOne of my inventor idols is Christopher Latham Sholes (1819-1890). He was a newspaper publisher and politician in Kenosha, Wisconsin, who had started his career as a printer. While typewriting machines had been invented previously, none worked successfully, so Sholes took on the challenge, finally creating the first commercially viable typewriter. The process of perfecting the machine took years and many failures, but he was unwavering in his pursuit. In 1873 he came up with the QWERTY keyboard to alleviate the problem of keys sticking together and some parts being worn out before others. This development finally made the typewriter successful, and obviously the keyboard he developed is still in use today even though the need for it has long passed.

Perhaps it was because he had claimed the patent on it, or had a supportive business partner who also welcomed criticism as constructive — but Sholes persevered when others would have thrown the machine out the window!

It’s a lesson not only in perseverance, but in learning how to take criticism and use it to one’s advantage. No doubt many inventors have heard the comment, “That’ll never work,” or “What a dumb idea!” There’s also tenacity to be admired. Some of these ground-breakers spent their whole lives committed to a specific development, be it mechanical or a scientific idea. Now we take for granted so many inventions which at the time were often thought impossible. Yet through the hard work and commitment of men and women of vision the unthinkable became a reality.

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