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Thomas Edison versus Nikola Tesla: Who is more productive?

Thomas Edison versus Nikola Tesla: Who is more productive?
Tesla and Edison

Thomas Edison is widely known as the greatest inventor the world has ever known. Nikola Tesla is also known as a great inventor and many people say he was more brilliant than Edison was. In our last post, two weeks ago, we discussed Edison’s 5 million page note-taking system and received a reaction from some of Tesla’s fans.

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Should we really care who was brighter? Or is it productivity that really counts? Who was the more productive of these two famous men?
Edison is famous for inventing the phonograph, incandescent light bulb, cement making technology, motion picture camera, DC motors and electric power generation systems, battery and several other things we use every day and don’t think much about. Tesla similarly invented radio, fluorescent light, AC motors and electric power generation systems. Both these men lived long lives, well into their 80s, at around the same time a century ago.

There are big differences between Edison and Tesla. The main one seems to be based on who got the credit for what. Many Tesla fans accuse Edison of having stolen much from Tesla who worked for Edison during his early years. They claim Edison was a thief and that he died a rich and powerful man surrounded by friends because he robbed Tesla and others like him. Meanwhile, Tesla died broke and miserable and lonely with his closest friends being wild pigeons he had enticed into his room at the Hotel New Yorker. Edison fans similarly suggest Tesla was a swindler who deceived investors into financing his ideas with promises he rarely kept. They suggest Tesla got his just rewards.
Both versions appear to be true. For example, Edison did not invent the light bulb. Joseph Swan was installing them in homes and landmarks in England years before Edison got his light bulb patented and working. Edison was buying out other people’s patents and when Swan eventually sued Edison and won, Edison had to take him in as a partner in Edison’s British company. Likewise, a deceitful Tesla managed to convince J.P. Morgan, the world’s most powerful financier at the time, to finance his concept for wireless free electricity production under the guise of sending radio messages across the oceans and to and from ships at sea. Tesla was making artificial lightning with Morgan’s money that was eventually cut off.

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Edison and Tesla came to technological blows in the late 1800s when Tesla’s AC (alternating current) power systems that are used all over the world today came into competition with Edison’s DC (direct current) power systems. As it turns out, Tesla’s system was the better one. Tesla’s technologies were bought by railway air brake inventor George Westinghouse who developed them into what became the multinational Westinghouse company. Edison is the godfather of General Electric, presently the world’s 12th largest company. Both these guys were prolific inventors and became famous for it. But comparing them on a point by point basis, the reasons why Edison died rich and famous while Tesla died broke and lonely become clear based on relative productivity.
The Edison versus Tesla productivity scorecard:

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  1. Innovation output. Edison had received 1093 lifetime U.S. patents while Tesla had received 112. Although some of Edison’s patents (perhaps many of them) were bought or stolen, this is a huge number. Since Tesla wasn’t taking much money from Edison and only worked for him a short time, there is no way Edison could have stolen many from him.
  2. Innovation success rate. Almost 100% of Edison’s patents were tied to commercial successes while Tesla’s number was similarly high in the early years while working for Westinghouse then plummeted to about 20% after he went out on his own.
  3. Capital productivity. Edison built up sophisticated laboratory operations, employing some of the best and brightest people in the world, with Tesla among them for a while. Tesla built up similar labs while involved with Westinghouse and when on his own. The difference is that Edison did not hesitate to scale down or close operations from time to time as his organizational needs changed to remain solvent. Tesla had his creditors closing them for him.
  4. Labour productivity. This is one of the greatest differences between Edison and Tesla. Edison always had several people involved with his projects while Tesla generally worked alone. Tesla might have had extremely high levels of personal productivity at times, but Edison had the advantage of having a virtual army at his disposal. For example, Edison was able to accumulate over 5 million pages of organized records while Tesla had relatively few and they were not as well organized as Edison’s. Edison and Tesla both had legendary work ethics, but only Edison had it instilled at an organizational level.
  5. Media output (the Google Test). A quick Google image search of “Thomas Edison” generated 123,000 returns while the same search of “Nikola Tesla” generated 35,000 returns. Edison and Tesla each had the ability to engage the media in their day although Edison had the upper hand in this regard too.
  6. Network productivity. This is the Who’s Who test. Edison developed close relations with some of the most powerful and influential people around in his day, including Henry Ford, while Tesla also knew such people but tended to alienate most of them over time.

Did we miss anything important here? Or did Edison simply out-produce Tesla in every measurable way? Vote for the person you think was the most productive. If you don’t agree productivity is what counts, cast your vote anyway but let us know how you compared these two famous and controversial inventors.

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Peter Paul Roosen and Tatsuya Nakagawa are co-founders of Atomica Creative Group , a specialized strategic product marketing firm. Through leading edge insight and research, sound strategic planning and effective project management, Atomica helps companies achieve greater success in bringing new products to market and in improving their existing businesses. They have co-authored Overcoming Inventoritis: The Silent Killer of Innovation now available.

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Last Updated on July 8, 2020

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

This is why setting priorities is so important.

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3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

1. Eat a Frog

There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

2. Move Big Rocks

Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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3. Covey Quadrants

If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important and Not Urgent
  3. Not Important but Urgent
  4. Not Important and Not Urgent

    The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

    Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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    You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

    Getting to Know You

    Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

    In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

    These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

    More Tips for Effective Prioritization

    Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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