Friday, February 26, 2010

Commitment v Obstinance

Innovation entails a high degree of risk and is often made possible only be an innovator's faith in and commitment to a new product or process. This situation, however, can produce a difficult dilemma when the innovator has to decide whether the degree of risk has begun to outweigh the possible rewards.
Edison's confidence in his ability to solve nearly any technical problem and his enthusiasm for and commitment to the ore-milling venture sustained him even in the face of skepticism from his closest associates.
Paul Israel, Edison: A Life of Invention (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998), 338, 358.
The ore-milling failure period of Edison's professional life is perhaps the most intriguing period of his life. He dumped considerable amounts of time, energy, and finances into the venture which proved to be his greatest failure. Multiple times along the way he could have backed out and listend to advice to move on, and yet he stuck to his belief that he could figure out a way to make it work. The possible rewards never came into play, and the high risk gamble proved to be a very poor decision.
And yet this is what made Edison great. Whereas most people would have quit - he had the courage to continue forward. Certainly this stubborn trait cost him dearly but it is that same trait that helped push him foward with the telegraph, phonograph, and electric light. Everyone wants to be known as committed, but as a society we have deemed stubbornness a negative trait. So the questions then becomes when does commitment end and obstinance start? How much time, energy, and finances do we need to pour into our pursuits? And how long should our confidence hold strong in the face of steady & reasonable skepticism? My thought is that it is only in failing at these that we will ever see the rewards of the high risk gambles we take. In other words the failures we have in obstinance can lead to the rewards we have in commitment.


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