eight Classes in Entrepreneurship From the Biggest Inventor of All Time

8 Lessons in Entrepreneurship From the Greatest Inventor of All Time

21, 2020

8 min read

The opinions expressed by the entrepreneur's contributors are their own.

If you've ever read Harry Potter, The Odyssey, or a traditional folk tale, you are familiar with the hero's journey. They all (and countless others) follow the same template. It was literature professor Joseph Campbell who published the book in 1949 that described and analyzed this structure: The Hero with a Thousand Faces. This book has inspired writers from a number of genres, including films, novels, plays, and games.

In my new book, The Entrepreneur Journey, a strategic blueprint for market dominance, I explore the idea that the mythological hero journey designed by Campbell could also provide a framework for the journey of entrepreneurs.

To illustrate the different stages in the entrepreneur's journey, I've started each chapter with an episode from the life of one of the most prolific innovators of all time, Thomas Edison. Edison is forever associated with the phrase "a lightbulb moment," a flash of blinding intuition that seems to come out of nowhere, but reality was very different. I hope these stories will highlight the complexity of his invention, the teamwork and effective delegation required, the level of collaboration, the detailed planning, and the ceaseless cycles of testing and improvement.

Related: 10 Thomas Edison Quotes to Inspire and Motivate You

According to Campbell, there are 17 steps in the hero's journey. I've narrowed these down to eight.


The journey begins when the entrepreneur, immersed in the world and feeling his surroundings, is visited by inspiration and feels the urge to change something. This appeal calls for a step away from everyday life, regardless of the form of inspiration. For Edison, this came when he was visiting inventor William Wallace's workshop in Ansonia, Connecticut and saw his Telemachon, or new dynamo. It was then that he saw the solution to the problem of developing a system for supplying cheap, abundant electrical light.


Articulating, expressing this idea so that it can be shared and understood by others requires a certain level of commitment and even courage, especially when the entrepreneur operates in an environment where individualism and personal growth are not valued. In Edison's case, that meant going back to his own workshop in Menlo Park and inspiring his own bastards to invest in the project. This required conviction and passion, daring, and a constant sense of clarity and purpose


Those who have decided to go to the other world – the outside world of the collective and teamwork – are facing their first initiation: they have to cross the threshold from the second to the third phase to present their idea to a group of colleagues such as investors To introduce programmers and engineers. This is where the entrepreneur has to team up with these employees, and everyone has to reorient themselves to work together in harmony and begin the adventure of collaboration and product building. In this context, Edison's habit of leaving his notebooks lying around was an open invitation to all of his employees to examine his ideas and give him their honest opinions. He also encouraged collaboration by staying up all night and socializing with his colleagues and workers.


Now the team has to decide what exactly they want to build and bring to market and how they want to achieve this. They need to work together to come up with the best plan: there are many considerations (market forces and nature of competition) to take into account, and the task can be much more difficult than expected, especially when delays and internal conflicts are holding back progress. The entrepreneur may be tempted to give up his internal reputation and original purpose and come up with a product that doesn't suit his needs.

In order for Edison to do his job, he had to spend most of the small amount of money left over from the initial investment in the latest equipment. Menlo Park had to be the most comprehensive facility in the world for conducting electrical research. He also had to hire new employees: men who know about machining and glass blowing. The laboratory would now be a specialized facility. As Edison explained to his collaborator Theodore Puskas (who was to invent the world's first switchboard), Menlo Park "needed every means to more accurately target and test every point of electric light in order to be able to." to make and answer or avoid any objection before it is shown to the public or put for sale in either that country or Europe. "


With their plan at hand, the team now begins to execute and actually create a system in the physical world, developing that system in the form of a service or product. At this stage, threats have to be overcome – dragons have to be killed: tight budgets, unexpected setbacks, quality assurance and legal compliance. At this stage, it may take many iterations to emerge victorious. However, by the time you've gone through this stage, you've passed the point of no return. In theory, there is always an option to retreat, but just like on the hero's journey, you may find that you have gone too far to abandon the quest and must get through it. Within two weeks of creating a miraculous filament of light that could burn for 13.5 hours, Edison and his team had improved this design and filed a patent. Only a few months after the patent was granted in the following year was a light bulb developed with a lifespan of 1,200 hours.

Work on developing an entire system – dynamo, lamps, connecting wires – could really begin now. Again, Edison spontaneously took an approach that was completely in line with modern management by dividing the work into several multifunctional teams, each with their own goals, who informed him about their progress every evening.


The price as we move into the next phase is a product or system that has been proven to work through extensive testing and experimentation – an offering robust enough to meet the expectations and aspirations of those who use it. When John Kreusi, Edison's chief engineer, saw the sheer volume of power plant construction bids they were receiving, Edison looked at him and said, "Don't do anything. We're not ready yet. We ran an experiment, that's all. Yes "It was successful and the concept is there. We showed it. But that's not enough for a project like this one. We have to test every part of this system – not just for errors and improvements, but also for durability. It has been shown that that it works, but we have to show that it works – not just once, but over a long period of time. If the system fails, we have to discover it before someone else does. "


It's time to get your product to market. That's where you need to get in touch with potential users to make them aware that your offering can solve their problem – or even a problem they didn't know they had. (Keep in mind that the entrepreneur may still be followed by guardians from the other world, for example in the form of a revised regulation that may require a retreat to an earlier stage.) Developing your networks is a worthwhile activity that will take you far brings better access to information, expertise and maybe even partnership. You have a much better chance of success if you surround yourself with the right people, such as marketers, who want to actively work with you from the start.

Although the Paris Electrical Show of 1881 may have been more of an international science and trade conference than a marketing conference, the presence of Edison's team enabled him to enrich his networks and gauge the opposition.


Ultimately, the entrepreneur receives feedback from users – some positive, confirming that they made the right decisions; some are critical, which indicates a need for improvement. Like in a video game where you move on to the next level, the journey begins all over again, this time with new challenges but in hindsight.

When Edison received complaints from customers more than a mile from his stations and therefore unable to take advantage of his lighting system, he listened and went back to the drawing board and invented the three-wire system. While researching Edison's story, I noticed that, while more than a century has passed since his Edison Illuminating Company was founded, the entrepreneurial journey itself has not changed much.

Related: 8 Facts to Be Amazed and Inspired by Thomas Edison's Birthday