Bringing Out the Genius in Others

Bringing Out the Genius in Others


We’ve covered a lot of ground in this program and we’ve met a number of truly remarkable individuals. I’d like to say that you have everything you need to live as a true genius — but that isn’t really true. You see, there’s one thing that all our geniuses have in common that I haven’t mentioned yet. It’s something critically important too.


Despite the myth of the isolated loner writing a great novel in his log cabin, geniuses are almost never solitary individuals. On the contrary, they’re usually deeply involved with their families, their colleagues, and quite often with their enemies and rivals. Geniuses are usually surrounded by other people. Not just by yes men, either. Indeed, the final quality of genius I want to mention — and it’s far from the least important — is the power to bring out the genius in others.


How can you accomplish this? Well, many personal development programs stress the importance of finding role models or mentors. That is very important — but for bringing out genius in the people around you, the perspective needs to be reversed. You should be a mentor. You should be a role model, not just find one for yourself.


Geniuses in every field have certain characteristics in common. They’re inspired, they’re resilient, they’re focused –and most of them read a lot! Think back over the people we’ve discussed in this program. What characteristics do you share with Einstein, Edison, Churchill, and Lincoln? It would hardly come as a surprise if you were to choose one of those geniuses as a role model. But here’s a more pertinent question: when it comes to role models, would people choose you?


These common characteristics do not occur by chance, they are an integral part of goal attainment.  It is worth your time to analyze the constructive characteristics of people who are now where you would like to be– role models.  These are people to admire and emulate.  Your choices can include people who are dead or living as long as you are familiar with their personalities and accomplishments.


Harry Truman knew the value of role models.  When he was in the White House, he often went into the Lincoln bedroom, looked at the late president’s picture and asked, “What would Lincoln have done now?” The answers gave Truman the insight and direction he was seeking. It worked because Truman felt Lincoln was a man worth emulating. Do people feel that way about you?


In becoming a role model that can inspire genius in others, the following guidelines can really help:


First, keep off the pedestal. People will admire and emulate you because of what you’ve accomplished.  That’s good.  What’s not good is putting you above them, and trying to appear larger than life.  We are all human.  We all have strengths and weaknesses.  You must not lose this perspective on yourself, or others will turn away from you.  And remember: isolation is contradictory to genius.


Second, focus on people’s strong points. To ignite and inspire genius, you need to see what an individual might need to emulate, and make a conscious effort to model those qualities. It’s a responsibility — not unlike being a parent — but it’s one that so many geniuses have willingly taken on. Edison had a whole army of assistants and colleagues, as did Walt Disney. Many of them went on to do great things in their own right.


Above all remain yourself — and give others freedom to do the same. Often the tendency when admiring someone is to try to become his or her clone. A genius doesn’t encourage that. A genius wants to be around other geniuses, not wannabes. That’s why the ability to bring out the genius in others is so rewarding.


So — go for it! Put this and everything else we’ve talked about genius into action and let it take you where you’re destined to go. Make the journey your intention, not the outcome. As the great Irish writer James Joyce put it, “Persons of genius make no mistakes. Their errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.”


The Genius of Humor-Do you have it?

APPLYING the Genius of Humor



The genius of humor obviously pertains to communication – but humor is not just a secondary form of genius. Humor is vital. But there’s a wrong way and a right way to use it.

While being wheeled into the operating room after being shot by a would-be assassin, the ever-persuasive President Ronald Reagan got a chuckle when he wisecracked, “I hope the doctor is a Republican.” We may not all be so cool in a crisis, but we can all profit by not taking ourselves too seriously.

Here are my suggestions for improving your sense of humor: First, find out what your strong suit is, humor-wise. Ask a friend who’ll be honest with you. Second, know who you’re talking with. Not everybody thinks the same things are funny — and there are a few people who don’t think anything is funny, or at least nothing that’s been discovered yet. Third, work on your timing. Try out your best lines on your family and your friends — and test really bad puns on your enemies! And finally, remember that the best target for humor is yourself. A little self-deprecating humor can go a long way toward making people feel at ease with you. In short, humor is much more than an icebreaker. When things are good, it can keep egos from becoming inflated. And when the going is tough, it can also be an affirmation of dignity, a declaration of your faith in ultimate success.


Financial Genius-Are you one? Peter Lynch is!


Financial Genius – Peter Lynch


Our topic here is financial genius. That is, the ability to make money, keep the money that’s been made, and make even more money — especially when others are losing.

Is financial genius a category that belongs alongside the visionary genius of an Einstein or the leadership genius of a Lincoln? Is being a successful businessperson as significant an accomplishment as being an artist like daVinci or a statesman and communicator like Winston Churchill?

Perhaps we have to conclude that financial genius, the genius of making money, may be a more ambiguous category than some of the others we’ve looked at — but there certainly some strong arguments for taking it very seriously. One definition of genius, after all, is the ability to do easily something that others find difficult. Making money is not something that comes easily to most people. And making a lot of money does not come to many people at all.

Our financial genius is Peter Lynch, who built the Magellan Fund into the world’s largest mutual fund — an investment vehicle that made millionaires out of thousands of people.

When Fortune magazine named Peter Lynch to their Business Hall of Fame, his induction was accompanied by this statement: “It is not for business people to amass great wealth. It is not enough to lead great enterprises. They must have changed the world around them for the better.” This is an important principle that ought to be included in any definition of financial genius.

Look at Peter Lynch’s credentials: he’s the most successful money manager in history. In 13 years, he built Fidelity Magellan from a tiny institution with assets of 20 million dollars into the world’s biggest mutual fund, worth more than 13 billion dollars. From 1977 to 1990, Lynch gave investors a total return of 2,800 percent. When he retired in 1990, at the age of 46, he had outperformed every other mutual fund manager for 13 years straight. That’s a record that will probably never be matched.

Peter Lynch’s connection to the financial markets had always been linked to domestic and family concerns. His father was a mathematics professor at Boston College who died when Lynch was 10 years old. To help earn money for his family, Lynch started caddying at a golf course near his home at age 11. Most of the talk he heard from the golfers was about the stock market. Lynch eventually got a scholarship to Boston College that was especially earmarked for former caddies. It happened also that one of his regular golfers was the president of Fidelity funds, and he suggested that Lynch apply for a summer job during college. That was the start of something very big for Lynch, Fidelity and its investors.

The remarkable thing is Peter Lynch had no magic formula for financial success. He relied on intuition, trend spotting, and careful investigation of the companies his fund would invest in. His success was grounded in the fundamentals. He personally visited every one of those companies before committing a single dollar.

Our topic in this session deals with something that directly concerns all of us — money. It’s valuable and important to connect with the power of visionary genius or with the creative energies that you may have ignored. But very few of us ignore money. All of us have got financial obligations, as well as hopes and dreams for financial success.

Because of all these realities, I want to end this session with some attention to what we might call the opposite of financial genius. It’s not really lack of intelligence or clear thinking, but it’s a tendency that has led millions of people into a cleverly constructed money trap.

I’m referring to the problem of debt, especially so-called unsecured debt or consumer debt or credit card debt. There’s certainly a good chance that this is not an issue in your life — but if it is, it needs to be addressed before the opportunities of financial genius can really open up. And there’s no doubt that it is a big issue for a lot of people.

On an individual level, credit spending may seem to be analogous to deficit spending by the government. Both, after all, involve going into debt and paying interest to service that debt. There’s no doubt about it — this is the opposite of financial genius.

So as a first step toward financial genius, take action to reduce the level of debt in your life, and to keep it from going back up. Then follow the example of Peter Lynch — in both financial and personal terms.  Don’t look for magic formulas. Build you career in the same way you build your investments: by emphasizing the fundamentals, by paying attention to what’s selling and what’s not selling in the world around you — and most importantly, by not letting financial issues distract your focus on other areas of your life. That distraction can occur when there’s not enough money, when there’s too much money, or when debt becomes overwhelming. In short, a financial genius knows the importance of money, and neither minimizes that importance nor magnifies it. As Peter Lynch has said, “Over time, there are going to be recessions, stock market declines, and layoffs. If you go to Minnesota in January, you know it’s gonna be cold. But you don’t panic when the thermometer falls below zero — because spring always comes.”






Artistic Genius – Leonardo daVinci and Walt Disney

Artistic Genius – Leonardo daVinci and Walt Disney


Our society is moving toward a view of artistic genius that’s both new and old. It’s new in the sense that truly incredible tools and technologies are now available for creative work. It’s old because our present view of the artist’s place in society has much more in common with the Middle Ages or the Renaissance than with the 19th or early 20th centuries.

To make this clear, and to help you connect with the creative elements in your own character — which you may or may not have recognized in the past — our focus in this session is on two true geniuses who really exemplified the times in which they lived. One of these men is Leonardo daVinci who, along with Michelangelo, is generally recognized as the quintessential artist of the Renaissance. Our second artistic genius is Walt Disney — and he occupies more or less the same position in our time that Leonardo occupied in his. Disney was the Leonardo of the 20th century.

Here at the start of the 21st century, we’re getting rid of the idea that a creative person is someone who wears a beret and lives in a garret. The model of the isolated artist won’t work anymore — and neither will the model of the corporate person who wants to work forty years for one company and then collect a big pension. In this sense, both Leonardo and Disney are probably much more relevant to the circumstance of your life than you might think.

Leonardo was born in the small Italian town of Vinci, in the year 1452. He began life with certain obvious advantages, and also some disadvantages. His father was a rather wealthy country gentleman. His mother, however, was a servant girl whom his father had no intention of marrying. In later life he would describe himself as a “man with no education.”

When he was about 14 years old, Leonardo was sent to Florence to become an apprentice in the studio of a prominent artist. The artist’s name was Andrea del Verrocchio, and he was both a painter and a sculptor. Leonardo learned a lot from this first master. And around 1470, after being with Verrocchio for about four years, Leonardo got a big break. He was assigned to paint an angel in the corner of one of Verrocchio’s major commissioned works. According to legend, when Verrocchio saw the angel he realized it was infinitely better than the rest of the painting. In fact, it was so much better than anything Verrocchio had ever done that he gave up painting forever, right then and there. This legend may or may not be true, but the young artist from the countryside was definitely on his way.

In 1901, about 450 years after the birth of Leonardo, Walt Disney was born in Chicago, Illinois. His home life and childhood were far from the idealized turn of the century landscape he would later create at Disneyland. His father in particular was a difficult man emotionally, and an unsuccessful one financially. Walt found a couple of different ways to escape from this environment. First, he escaped into art, taking classes and drawing whenever he could. Second, he enlisted in the Red Cross ambulance service during the First World War, because at the age of 16 he was too young to join the regular army.

After the war, Disney went to Kansas City, and began a career as a commercial artist. There he discovered animation, and the all the possibilities it offered for creating an alternate world. At first, this world was constructed out of pure imagination. Later it would be projected onto movie screens and television — and ultimately it would become physical reality at Disneyland and Disney World. It would become the basis for a multi-billion dollar entertainment empire.

Right now, as the most basic element of modeling artistic genius, I’d like you to recognize exactly what artistic genius is. It’s simply taking a picture that’s in your heart and using some medium to move it into the hearts of other people. It doesn’t matter what that picture is, and — at least initially — it doesn’t matter how technically adept you are with the medium you’ve chosen.

Leonardo had incredible technical skill. His ability for drawing and sculpture was truly superhuman, and he was also extremely adept at the mechanical and engineering tasks demanded by large scale creative work.

Walt Disney had nothing like Leonardo’s gifts as an artist. There were thousands of people who could draw better than Walt Disney — and when he entered the new field of animation, there were lots of people who were better at that as well. When we look back on it today, it’s easy to think that Mickey Mouse was some sort of breakthrough creation that was destined to revolutionize the world. But there were other cartoon characters that were already very popular, and that were just as charming and creative as the Mouse. For example, what was wrong with Felix the Cat? Why is he forgotten today? Why wasn’t there a television show called the Felix the Cat Club instead of the Mickey Mouse Club?

One big difference, perhaps the big difference, was that behind Mickey Mouse there was a personality whose genius was to take this very little mouse and to make it extremely large. To take something that at first had no substance — no reality — and to give it material being on a scale that kept getting larger and larger.

For your own life, the example of Disney as artistic genius is especially relevant. While it’s possible that you may patent thousands of inventions or become president of the United States, the odds are against it, but on a smaller scale, the tools of artistic genius are always available to you.

What does it take to use those tools? It’s simply a matter of taking the vision that’s in your mind and moving it into the world in some tangible form. It’s taking your vision one step beyond just talking about how you’ll write it or record it or film it “when you get time.”  Taking that step is the essence of artistic genius. Don’t worry about whether your creation will be seen by one person, or a million people, or just by you alone.  Focusing on those things — like saying you “don’t have the time” — is just an unconscious way to avoid actually doing anything. The important thing is to separate yourself from the many, many people who tell me they’ve got something they want to say, but who never get around to saying it.

Thank you for joining me in this discussion of artistic genius, and of how it expressed itself in two very different personalities across the centuries.


Winston Churchill – Communication Genius

Winston Churchill – Communication Genius

Winston Churchill was hugely accomplished as a statesman, an historian, and a writer. But when people think of Churchill, it’s his speeches that are remembered. It’s the sound of his voice. That voice is still unforgettable today, even in scratchy old recordings. Try to imagine how it must have sounded over the radio in 1940, when Churchill and Britain were all that stood between Hitler and victory in the Second World War.


Winston didn’t fit easily into the standard educational system. From the first, it was obvious he had tremendous talent — his power of memory was rather amazing. But he was very stubborn. He learned what he wanted to learn, and resisted anything else. He didn’t care about learning other languages, for example. He wanted to learn English.


By the time Churchill was only twenty-six years old, he was about to enter Parliament, where his voice would be heard for the first time — and once Churchill’s voice was heard, it could never be forgotten.


In our schools today, not much attention is paid to speaking skills. There really isn’t a focus on the ability to express yourself effectively in front of a group of people — or even one person. The strange thing is this was a fundamental element of education throughout the history of Western civilization.


As a professional speaker myself, it’s amazing to discover the detail and care that was given to the spoken word. The Greeks and Romans considered speaking — which they called rhetoric — to be a branch of philosophy. It was an art that demanded talent and practice, and it was also a science that be studied carefully and systematically. Churchill certainly knew these principles backwards and forwards — and in order to model Churchill’s communication genius, you should know them also.


There were basically four general categories of communication — and a genius was someone who could excel in all these areas. The categories were invention, arrangement, style, and memory. They’re still very applicable today, and they’re understood explicitly or intuitively by every communication genius.


Invention really means having something to say. You can’t be a great communicator if you don’t have anything to communicate. In order to discover your genius as a communicator, ask yourself where you are on this spectrum. Are you someone who feels the need to talk for talking’s own sake — whether or not your given the opportunity? Or do you back away from communicating even when everyone would benefit from your doing so? Try to be ruthlessly honest about this. It’s not easy, because we’re often amazingly unaware of our true nature as communicators. It’s also something that other people are usually uncomfortable discussing with you.


The second principal of speaking was arrangement — which today we would call organization. This is just the tactics and tools of communication. The organization of a good speech comprised six parts: the introduction; the statement of facts; the discussion of facts; the proof of facts; the refutation of possible objections; and the conclusion. The trick, of course, was to blend these parts seamlessly together so that the whole thing seemed effortless and intuitive. It’s amazing, though, how good speaking can be broken down into parts to be approached logically and scientifically.


After organization, the third principle of communication was style. Organization is about what you’re saying — style is about how you say it. Today, this is probably more important than any other element of spoken communication, but it’s crucial to develop a style that fits you and fits your audience. Churchill was obviously a master of style. In my opinion, he was really the last great communicator in the classical tradition. Before him, here may have been many people who spoke like Churchill, going all the way back to Greece and Rome. But I don’t believe anyone since Churchill has successfully attempted that style. Martin Luther King was certainly a great communicator, and he could move his listeners just as deeply as Churchill. But his style of speaking came from the tradition of African American preaching rather than classical oratory.


We can learn a lot from Churchill and King concerning organization and inspiration — but the style of communication that is most effective today has a different lineage. I would call it an informal style, although it may actually be very carefully thought out and planned. It’s a style that was mastered by Lincoln in his famous debates with Senator Stephen Douglas, by Mark Twain in the literally thousands of lectures that he gave during the final decades of his life — and most recently by Ronald Reagan, who wasn’t called “the Great Communicator” for nothing.


The fourth principle of speaking was memory. Until relatively recently, it would have been unthinkable for a communicator to read a speech, much less use a TelePrompTer to make it seem like he knew it by heart. Memory was equated with intelligence. Today we think a person who can do science or math is at the highest level of intellectual power, but in the past it was how much you had memorized. For a modern man, Churchill was surely very accomplished in this regard. For example, he probably knew much of Shakespeare by heart. But in the old days, it was taken for granted that an educated person knew the Bible nearly word for word.


I’m not suggesting that to be an effective communicator you need to be a memory expert. But it is important to convey complete familiarity with your subject. If this isn’t the case, you’re going to be dependent on outside help, and that’s an uncomfortable position for a communicator.


For success in any field, three important components are pretty much universally recognized — we can call them theory, talent, and practice. In communication, theory refers to the ideas we discussed a moment ago, such as organization, style, and familiarity with your topic. Talent seems to be very important today, because we tend to believe that we’re pretty much born with the limits we can reach in any field. But more than anything, it took practice. Churchill had been a public communicator since he entered Parliament in his early twenties. And this brings us back to a point that was so perfectly expressed by Edison: “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.” The more you do something, the more you work at it, the more you experience it, the better you’ll get at it — until before you know it, everybody will be calling you a communication genius!

Leadership Genius-Abe Lincoln


                   The Leadership Genius of Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln really was born in a log cabin. The fact that he went on to become President — and to lead the country through the most difficult period of its history — is truly remarkable.  It’s even more amazing when you consider what it took to be an important leader in the middle of the nineteenth century. Although we hear a lot about people like Lincoln or Andrew Jackson or Ulysses S. Grant — people who came from nothing to wield great power — these were most definitely the exceptions who proved the rule. And the rule was, most successful people started out with all the advantages. Financially, it was much harder to get rich a hundred and fifty years ago than it is today — and if you failed, it was much harder to get back on your feet. There was no safety net from the government or from anywhere else to make sure that you didn’t go hungry. In those days, it was every man for himself.

With that in mind, let’s look for a minute at some of the things that Lincoln faced and overcame. You’ve probably seen lists similar to this, describing Lincoln’s failures, but I’d like to go through it again in order to make some important points, which we’ll take up immediately after the list. As you’re listening to this list, I’d like you also to think of setbacks you’ve faced in your own life, and how you responded to them.

In 1832, Lincoln was working in a general store in Illinois when he decided to run for the state legislature. But the election was some months away, and before it took place the general store went bankrupt and Lincoln was out of a job. So he joined the army and served three months. When he got out, it was almost time for the election — which he lost.

Then, with a partner, Lincoln opened a new general store. His partner embezzled from the business, and the store went broke. And shortly thereafter the partner died, leaving Lincoln with debts that took several years to pay off.

In 1834, Lincoln ran again for the state legislature, and this time he won. He was even elected to three more terms of two years each. During this period, however, Lincoln also suffered some severe emotional problems. Today he would have been categorized as clinically depressed.

By 1836, Lincoln had become a licensed attorney. At that time, a law degree was not required to pass the bar exam, and Lincoln had been studying on his own for years. He later became a circuit-riding lawyer, traveling from county to county in Illinois to plead cases in different jurisdictions. He was one of the most diligent of all the lawyers doing this kind of work, and between 1849 and 1860 he missed only two court sessions on the circuit.

In 1838, he was defeated in an attempt to become Speaker of the Illinois legislature, and in 1843 he was defeated in an attempt to win nomination for Congress. In 1846 he was elected to Congress, but in 1848 he had to leave because his party had a policy of limiting terms. In 1854, he was defeated in a run for the U.S. Senate. In 1856, he lost the nomination for Vice President, and in 1858 he was again defeated in a race for the Senate. Yet in spite of all these setbacks, in 1860 he was elected President of the United States.

What can we learn about leadership from looking at this chronology? To me, the most remarkable thing is how every time Lincoln failed at something, he was soon trying for something even bigger. When he loses his seat in the state legislature, he runs for the national congress. When he loses a bid for the Senate, he tries to become vice president — and when he loses the Senate race again, he winds up President of the whole country.

Lincoln saw himself as a leader long before anyone else did — and this is the first key to his leadership genius. He may have failed many times, but somehow he always failed upward. He was propelled by a sense of mission, and he was willing and able to do whatever it took to get that great mission accomplished.

From the very first, Lincoln saw himself as the savior of the country. Not just as a successful lawyer or a judge or the owner of a general store. To him, all those things were way stations on the way to something much bigger and more important. Lincoln saw himself as a leader long before he was one. In fact, he saw himself as the leader, right from the first. This wasn’t arrogance or empty ambition. It was a sense of ultimate purpose in service of a worthy cause.

How can you bring that sense of mission into your own life? What are your big, worthy dreams? Are there are goals that you recognized from the first, which you’ve continued to pursue no matter what setbacks have intervened? If that’s the case, then you’re already a leadership genius — you’ve already mastered the art of leading your life in the direction you want it to go.

On the other hand, you may be one of the many people who have put aside any ideas about changing the country or the world. That’s fine — but I do want to repeat the question I asked a moment ago: What are your big, worthy dreams? And I want to emphasize worthy. Having a big car or a boat doesn’t count. Those things are great, but can you see the difference between wanting material success and wanting to make a truly big difference in the world, the way Lincoln did? It’s the difference between just being successful for your own sake, in very conventional terms — and being a leadership genius, not just for yourself, but for other people too. In Lincoln’s case, it was for all people.

Think about your life in terms of a mission – a great purpose that inspires you to leadership — first leadership of yourself, and then of others. If you’ve identified that purpose, the next step is thinking practically and realistically about how you’re going to bring it about. And sometimes the practical side has to be dealt with first, in order to make the larger purpose feasible.

Is there anything about yourself that you suspect might disqualify you from being an effective leader? What are they? How can you turn these perceived weaknesses into your strengths? It’s tempting to think that our leaders should be without weaknesses, but that’s by no means the truth. Leaders should not be without weaknesses that they’re unaware of. Leaders should not be out of touch with what’s going on in their minds and hearts. That awareness in itself is much more important than what challenges it reveals. These are questions that will take more than a few minutes to answer — but I urge you to reflect on them to improve your leadership genius.



Example of an Applied Genius-Thomas Edison



Thomas Edison – Applied Genius


Visionary geniuses, or at least a lot of them, are downright proud of the fact that their ideas have no clear application to the real world. You’ll certainly find several people like this if you talk to people in the math department of a big university. On the other hand, people in the applied mathematics department, or in the engineering school, take great pride in the real world uses of their work. And despite what the visionary might think, applied genius is in no way inferior to pure theorizing. In fact, our world depends completely and totally on people who not only have ideas, but who can translate ideas into material reality. Applied genius is epitomized by Thomas Alva Edison.

All told, Edison patented more than 1093 inventions. That’s an average of one new patented invention every ten days of his adult life.  He didn’t patent any of his inventions that could be used in the medical field so everyone had access to them. How could one person have all this?

In order to understand what Thomas Edison said and did, we need to know a little about whom he was and where he came from. He was born in Ohio in 1847, and his family moved to the small but busy city of Port Huron, Michigan, when Tom was seven years old. Although not wealthy, both of Edison’s parents were accomplished people in their own ways. His mother was the descendant of a prominent New England family, and had professional training as a teacher. His father was a businessman who loved Shakespeare and other great writers. In fact, he loved them so much that he soon began paying Tom a dime for every book he read.

From the first, Edison was not exactly an easy boy to deal with. Like Einstein, he didn’t start speaking until much later than usual — about the age of four, in Edison’s case. But once he started, he rarely stopped. And his favorite form of speech was the question: “Why, why, why?”

It’s interesting to wonder how a boy like Edison would be handled in today’s educational environment, but in the 1850s the solution was very simple. At the age of seven, he was kicked out of school. From then on, his formal education was handled by his mother — he was “home schooled.”

Applied genius is within everyone’s range. For Edison, it was a matter of looking at the world around him, and asking himself the same few questions about everything he saw: How can this be improved? What’s the logical next step for this object? Most importantly, what can I do today toward taking that step?

Edison did see himself as a theoretician, but his theories were more along the lines of, “What would happen if?” Edison really worked by trial and error. To get where he wanted to go, he liked to grind it out. Some of the best known stories about Edison describe the thousand or so different substances he tried as filament for the light bulb. Finally he hit on the right one, which was tungsten.

Today, mainstream science would criticize this approach for wasting a lot of time. It lacks “elegance” — which is scientific jargon for the simplicity of a well thought-out experiment. Edison, however, wasn’t interested in that at all. He actually enjoyed all the mistakes and dead ends.

Here’s what he said: “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned, that doesn’t mean it’s useless. Surprises and reverses should be an incentive to accomplishment. If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is just one more step forward.”

Let’s think about how some of these ideas can be applied to your own life. Are you a person who likes to plan things out in advance — perhaps years in advance — before you take action? Or do you like to wing it? In other words, are you a theoretician and a planner? Or a “doer” who is determined to reach the goal by any means necessary?

In his own work, of course, Edison never felt that he encountered failure. He had an amazing way of reframing failure so that it actually turned out to be success. If something didn’t work, he had succeeded. He had successfully learned what wasn’t the answer he was looking for. He wasn’t surprised when this happened. It was what he expected. He was going to lose more often than he was going to win — but he knew he would win eventually, because he knew he was going to go on.

This was Edison’s approach, and it’s really the essence of applied genius. You may not always be able to control the outcome of what you undertake, but you can always control your responses to the outcome. You can always change the frame of an event from negative to positive — and the more you’re able to do that, the more successful you’re going to be.

Dr. Tony Alessandra has authored 14 books translated into 17 foreign languages, recorded over 50 audio and video programs, and delivered over 2,000 keynote speeches since 1976.  This article has been adapted from Dr. Alessandra’s Nightingale-Conant audio CD series, Secrets of Ten Great Geniuses, available at