By Michael J. Gelb
Baby ducks learn to walk by imitating their mothers. Many species, including humans, develop much of their behavioral repertoire by following role models. One distinctive characteristic of humans, however, is that as we become adults we can choose whom and what to imitate. If you want to cultivate all aspects of your human potential then Leonardo da Vinci would be an ideal figure to emulate. The supreme example of a “Renaissance Man”, Leonardo was probably the most creative and well-rounded person who ever lived. But, if you’re primarily interested in achieving your most important and ambitious goals then there’s probably no better role model than Thomas Edison. Thomas Edison (1847-1931) is history’s greatest achiever and practical innovator.
After all, Edison didn’t just invent the light bulb, he developed a system for lighting the entire world. If you are reading this article with the help of electrical illumination, it’s worth remembering that it was Edison who made this possible. Edison’s lighting system changed the world forever in a profoundly practical and profitable way. The light bulb is a universal symbol for “bright ideas,” and “brilliance” and Edison is the extraordinary genius behind that icon. If the lighting system were his only success, Edison would be renowned as one of the great geniuses of all time. Amazingly, he also invented the phonograph and much of the technology for the development of moving pictures, thereby launching the modern entertainment industry. Edison generated a record 1,093 U.S. patents but his greatest invention of all was never patented. Edison’s greatest invention was the creation of a systematic approach to innovation. Before Thomas Edison, invention was viewed as the random product of a solitary genius. Edison was, of course, an exceptional genius, but the greatest product of his genius was the establishment of an approach to creativity and innovation that he believed anyone could follow. As he proclaimed, “If we all did the things we are capable of doing we would literally astound ourselves.”
Edison’s astounding successes flowed from his establishment of the world’s first Research and Development laboratory at Menlo Park, New Jersey, and then in his “Invention Factory” at West Orange, New Jersey. For Thomas Edison, the principles of personal success and business innovation went hand-in-hand. And he never kept them “Secret.” Edison shared his ideas on success in his voluminous notebooks and in many interviews with the media. In the self-improvement classic Think and Grow Rich Napoleon Hill [1883-1970] expresses these timeless success principles. Hill discovered these principles by interviewing many of the most prominent people of his day, including, of course, Thomas Edison.
Edison’s ability to manifest his goals was predicated on his intuitive understanding of how the creative mind functions. You can access and apply the same principles that he did; to get started consider this simple acronym that expresses essential elements of effective goal-setting: SMART
S – Specific:
It’s nice to want to be “rich”, “happy” and “successful” but these kinds of terms are too general and vague. Instead of focusing on becoming “rich”, for example, determine the exact amount of money you would like to have. For all your goals, define exactly what you want to accomplish in detail.
M – Measurable:
How will you know that you’ve achieved your goal? How will you monitor your progress? Determine the criteria you will use to measure your achievement.
A – Accountable:
Make a full commitment to be personally responsible for achieving your goal. When setting goals in a team, be certain that accountability is clear.
R – Relevant:
Ensure that your goals are relevant to your overall purpose and values.
T – Timeline:
Create a clear timeline for the achievement of your goals. Without a clear timeline you are just fantasizing rather than goal-setting.
The SMART acronym provides sound guidance for setting your goals, but although many people are familiar with it few remember to apply it. Why? As neuroscientist Dr. Richard Restak points out, for the brain to remember to organize behavior in alignment with a goal it must connect the emotional component with its rational component. In other words, many goals remain unfulfilled because they’re not aligned with our emotions. Understanding how to set goals so that they will be remembered and translated into behavior is a critical key to personal happiness and fulfillment.
How do you integrate the emotional and rational elements in goal-setting? The secret is to invoke a second acronym: EDISON
EDISON makes the SMART part come to life:
E – Emotion/Expression:
Thomas Edison was intensely passionate about his goals. His biographers referred to him as “the living embodiment of the phrase: “I want what I want when I want it!” As the research of Restak and others demonstrates, and the story of Edison confirms, the emotional element of Goal- Manifestation is crucial. Express your goal in terms that energize and excite you. Awaken and focus your deepest passion.
D – Decision:
Goals aren’t realized through wishing and hoping. Instead, like Edison, be decisive about what you intend to manifest. Make a committed decision even if you can’t yet see the path forward to the realization of your goal.
I – Integration:
Always consider how each goal you set will be integrated with your other goals and your overall purpose. (Hint: Always link your goals to a higher purpose beyond your own personal benefit). Edison’s goals were all expressions of his life philosophy that he described as “bringing out the secrets of nature and applying them for the happiness of man.” He added, “I know of no better service to render during the short time we are in this world.”
S – Sensory:
Edison drew pictures and built three-dimensional models to represent his goals. Use all your senses to vividly imagine the manifestation of your goal.
O – Optimistic:
As the research of Dr. Martin Seligman and many others demonstrates, optimists achieve better results in life. Optimism drives success and innovation. Edison’s optimism was so powerful that it influenced every one around him to perform beyond what they believed to be possible.
N – Now:
Express your goal in present centered terms. And, begin it now!
Did you know that Thomas Edison:
- Started the first newspaper ever published on a train (when he was only 14 years old!)?
- Invented the “Carbon Button Transmitter” that made it possible for people to understand what was being said on the telephone?
- Was taken out of public school, where he never felt comfortable, and home-schooled by his mother?
- Had a reading with the legendary psychic, Edgar Cayce?
- Patented a process for making the cement used in the construction of Yankee stadium?
- Was an environmentalist who advocated the use of solar energy more than 100 years ago and also invented a storage battery to power cars?
Michael J. Gelb, is the world’s leading authority on the application of genius thinking to personal and organizational development. He ignited the current fascination with all things Da Vinci with his international best-seller How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. Michael Gelb’s latest book is, Innovate Like Edison: The Success System of America’s Greatest Inventor co-authored with Sarah Miller Caldicott, the great grand niece of Thomas Edison. www.michaelgelb.com