If he hadn’t failed, Thomas Edison might not have become America’s most well-known and prolific innovator. Like most entrepreneurs, when Edison first started his career, he was certain he had observed a fundamental problem he could solve. Specifically, Edison noticed that whenever Congress voted on an issue, each senator would stand one by one and call out his vote. To Edison, the inefficiency of such a system was absolutely stunning, and he realized that he could invent a system to quickly tally all the votes and skip the unnecessary and wasteful step of calling out votes.
Edison Failed When He Followed the Traditional Model
Like any good entrepreneur following the traditional product-based model, Edison jumped right in, built the system, and then brought his automatic vote-tally system to Congress. Imagine Edison bounding up the steps to the congressional offices eager to demonstrate how he had solved such a significant problem and excited for the payoff at the end of his hard work. Now picture his outright surprise when the Senators listened and then bluntly rejected his invention—they didn’t want it. Like most entrepreneurs, Edison was sure he had observed a real market need, and he must have been incensed at the inability of his “customers” to understand how he had saved them hours and hours by changing an inefficient and silly voting process. But the truth was that Edison hadn’t validated his assumption that the Senators actually wanted an automatic voting system. In fact, as it turned out, there was a great deal of politics and posturing in the calling of votes, and the Senators weren’t about to give up that system.
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