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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 March 31, 2020

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Is Procrastination Bad? The Truth About Procrastination Revealed

Procrastination is very literally the opposite of productivity. To produce something is to pull it forward, while to procrastinate is to push it forward — to tomorrow, to next week, or ultimately to never.

Procrastination fills us with shame — we curse ourselves for our laziness, our inability to focus on the task at hand, our tendency to be easily led into easier and more immediate gratifications. And with good reason: for the most part, time spent procrastinating is time spent not doing things that are, in some way or other, important to us.

There is a positive side to procrastination, but it’s important not to confuse procrastination at its best with everyday garden-variety procrastination.

Sometimes — sometimes! — procrastination gives us the time we need to sort through a thorny issue or to generate ideas. In those rare instances, we should embrace procrastination — even as we push it away the rest of the time.

Why We Procrastinate After All?

We procrastinate for a number of reasons, some better than others. One reason we procrastinate is that, while we know what we want to do, we need time to let the ideas “ferment” before we are ready to sit down and put them into action.

Some might call this “creative faffing”; I call it, following copywriter Ray Del Savio’s lead, “concepting”.[1]

Whatever you choose to call it, it’s the time spent dreaming up what you want to say or do, weighing ideas in your mind, following false leads and tearing off on mental wild goose chases, and generally thinking things through.

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To the outside observer, concepting looks like… well, like nothing much at all. Maybe you’re leaning back in your chair, feet up, staring at the wall or ceiling, or laying in bed apparently dozing, or looking out over the skyline or feeding pigeons in the park or fiddling with the Japanese vinyl toys that stand watch over your desk.

If ideas are the lifeblood of your work, you have to make time for concepting, and you have to overcome the sensation— often overpowering in our work-obsessed culture — that faffing, however creative, is not work.

Is Procrastination Bad?

Yes it is.

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’re “concepting” when in fact you’re just not sure what you’re supposed to be doing.

Spending an hour staring at the wall while thinking up the perfect tagline for a marketing campaign is creative faffing; staring at the wall for an hour because you don’t know how to come up with a tagline, or don’t know the product you’re marketing well enough to come up with one, is just wasting time.

Lack of definition is perhaps the biggest friend of your procrastination demons. When we’re not sure what to do — whether because we haven’t planned thoroughly enough, we haven’t specified the scope of what we hope to accomplish in the immediate present, or we lack important information, skills, or resources to get the job done.

It’s easy to get distracted or to trick ourselves into spinning our wheels doing nothing. It takes our mind off the uncomfortable sensation of failing to make progress on something important.

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The answer to this is in planning and scheduling. Rather than giving yourself an unspecified length of time to perform an unspecified task (“Let’s see, I guess I’ll work on that spreadsheet for a while”) give yourself a limited amount of time to work on a clearly defined task (“Now I’ll enter the figures from last months sales report into the spreadsheet for an hour”).

Giving yourself a deadline, even an artificial one, helps build a sense of urgency and also offers the promise of time to “screw around” later, once more important things are done.

For larger projects, planning plays a huge role in whether or not you’ll spend too much time procrastinating to reach the end reasonably quickly.

A good plan not only lists the steps you have to take to reach the end, but takes into account the resources, knowledge and inputs from other people you’re going to need to perform those steps.

Instead of futzing around doing nothing because you don’t have last month’s sales report, getting the report should be a step in the project.

Otherwise, you’ll spend time cooling your heels, justifying your lack of action as necessary: you aren’t wasting time because you want to, but because you have to.

How Bad Procrastination Can Be

Our mind can often trick us into procrastinating, often to the point that we don’t realize we’re procrastinating at all.

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After all, we have lots and lots of things to do; if we’re working on something, aren’t we being productive – even if the one big thing we need to work on doesn’t get done?

One way this plays out is that we scan our to-do list, skipping over the big challenging projects in favor of the short, easy projects. At the end of the day, we feel very productive: we’ve crossed twelve things off our list!

That big project we didn’t work on gets put onto the next day’s list, and when the same thing happens, it gets moved forward again. And again.

Big tasks often present us with the problem above – we aren’t sure what to do exactly, so we look for other ways to occupy ourselves.

In many cases too, big tasks aren’t really tasks at all; they’re aggregates of many smaller tasks. If something’s sitting on your list for a long time, each day getting skipped over in favor of more immediately doable tasks, it’s probably not very well thought out.

You’re actively resisting it because you don’t really know what it is. Try to break it down into a set of small tasks, something more like the tasks you are doing in place of the one big task you aren’t doing.

More consequences of procrastination can be found in this article: 8 Dreadful Effects of Procrastination That Can Destroy Your Life

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Procrastination, a Technical Failure

Procrastination is, more often than not, a sign of a technical failure, not a moral failure.

It’s not because we’re bad people that we procrastinate. Most times, procrastination serves as a symptom of something more fundamentally wrong with the tasks we’ve set ourselves.

It’s important to keep an eye on our procrastinating tendencies, to ask ourselves whenever we notice ourselves pushing things forward what it is about the task we’ve set ourselves that simply isn’t working for us.

Learn more about how to fix your procrastination problem here: What Is Procrastination and How to Stop It (The Complete Guide)

Featured photo credit: chuttersnap via unsplash.com

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