Thomas Edison’s Formula for Greatness

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Thomas Edison’s Formula for Greatness

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This week I lost 3000 photographs (personal and business) and all of my media material for my (our) next health course.

This included photographs and 15+ video recordings that were being stored in a ‘safe’ place. I won’t go into all of the recovery techniques that myself and other professionals have employed to retrieve the data.

It’s gone.

The exact morning this occurred I had been listening to a podcast which placed this loss into perspective.

I’m happy to say that these words below made a huge difference to the way I have approached this loss and how I will go about re-creating something bigger and better.

These words may also help you deal with loss, tragedy or ‘particularly bad things’.


Thomas Edison’s Formula For Greatness

// The original and complete podcast is to be found here

At age 67 Thomas Edison returned home early one evening form another day at the laboratory. Shortly after dinner, a man rushed into his house with urgent news.

A fire had broken out at Edison’s research and production campus a few miles away. Fire engines from the 8 nearby towns rushed to the scene at the scene but they could not contain the blaze. Fuelled by the many chemicals in various buildings, green and yellow flames shot up six and seven stories, threatening to the destroy the empire Edison had spent his life building.

Edison calmly but quickly made his way to the fire through the now hundreds of onlookers and devastated employees looking for his son.

‘Go and get your mother and all of your friends’ he told his son with childlike excitement.

‘They’ll never see a fire like this again’.


Don’t worry’ Edison calmed him. ‘It’s alright. We’ve just got rid of some old rubbish’.

That’s a pretty amazing reaction but when you think about it, there really was no other response. What should Edison have done?


Gotten angry?

Quit and gone home?

What exactly would that have accomplished?

You know the answer now, It’s ”nothing’.  So he didn’t waste time indulging himself.

To do great things, we must be able to endure tragedy and setbacks. 

We’ve got to love what we do and all that it entails. Good and bad.

We’ve got to find joy in every single thing that happens

Because there was a little more than rubbish (in the laboratory).

Years and years of priceless records, prototypes and research were turned into ash.

The buildings, that had supposedly been made from fireproof concrete had been insured for only a fraction of their worth. Thinking that they were immune to such disasters Edison and his investors were covered for about a third of the damage. Still Edison wasn’t heart broken, not as he could have and probably should have been.

Instead it all invigorated him.

He told a reporter the next day that he ‘wasn’t too old to make a fresh start’.  ‘I’ve been though a lot of things like this’ he said.

Within three weeks the factory was back up and running. Within a month it’s men were working two shifts a day churning out new products that the world had never seen. Despite a loss of almost than $1m dollars (more than $23M these days), Edison re-marshaled enough energy to make nearly $10M in revenue that year, $200+ million today.

He not only suffered a most spectacular disaster, but he recovered and replied to it spectacularly. 

The next step after we discard our expectations and accept what happened to us, after understanding that certain things, particularly bad things are outside of our control is this.

Loving whatever happens to us and facing it with unfailing cheerfulness.


It is the act of turning what we must do into what we get to do. We put our energies and our emotions and exertions where they will have real impact.

This is that place.

We will tell ourselves ‘This is what I have to do or put up with, well, I might as well be happy about it’.


Thomas Edison’s Formula for Greatness was last modified: June 19th, 2015 by Alice Nicholls

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