“Genius is one percent inspiration and
ninety-nine percent perspiration.” — Thomas Edison


It would be totally terrific if Edison’s
aphorism was true; but unfortunately, it isn’t. Since most people have a
modicum of inspiration and only one percent is necessary, a lot of people have
that requirement covered. Unless one assumes that people are inherently lazy
and unwilling to work hard, the perspiration requirement is covered too. If Edison is right, genius should be quite common, but it
isn’t.


Louis Pasteur also tried to minimize the uncommon status of
genius when he said, “Let me tell you the secret that has led me to my goal: my
strength lies solely in my tenacity.” Napoleon joined the chorus of luminaries
who perpetuate the myth that genius is little more than persistence and hard
work. He said, “Victory belongs to the most persevering.” Even Vince Lambardi
sang a line from that song, “The difference between a successful person and
others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of
will.” The message is that perspiration, tenacity, perseverance, and an
abundance of will are the basis for extraordinary performance and achievement.


With a little more exploration it
turns out that Edison didn’t actually believe
his famous aphorism. He also said, “Being busy does not always mean real work.
The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these
ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest
purpose, as well as perspiration.” This may be paraphrased to suggest that if
one starts with exceptional intelligence, adding forethought, system, planning,
honest purpose, and perspiration makes extraordinary outcomes possible and
perhaps even likely.


The take home point here is not complicated. Exceptional
intelligence is a gift that is easily squandered if, having received the gift,
you fail to combine it with tenacity, perseverance, and continuous
perspiration. Edison made the point himself
when he said, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close
they were to success when they gave up.” J.C. Penny agreed, “Unless you are
willing to drench yourself in your work beyond the capacity of the average man,
you are just not cut out for positions at the top.” Perhaps John Wooden
captured the principle’s essence when he said, “Don’t measure yourself by what
you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your
ability.” If the gap between “have” and “should” is more than you are
comfortable with, you are likely coming up a tad short in meeting Edison’s ninety-nine percent perspiration requirement.