Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration – Thomas Edison

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Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration. It is not clear when exactly Thomas Edison first made this quote as a remark; And it was attributed to him with this wording by 1901 
Edison claimed authorship of this statement in a 1927 letter: “it is quite true I once made the statement that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, and I am still of the same opinion”.
He repeated the claim in a 1932 interview with Harper’s Monthly: “You may have heard people repeat what I have said. ‘Genius is one per cent inspiration, ninety-nine per cent perspiration’.

Edison definition of genius is: “Two per cent. is genius, and 98 per cent. is hard work.”
He also stated: “Genius is not inspired. Inspiration is perspiration“.

Inspiration / perspiration origin

To explore the origin of this quote, we need to go back to the early 1890’s, when an academic named Kate Sanborn delivered a series of lectures on the topic “What is Genius?” She defined genius as a mix of “inspiration” and “perspiration”. “Talent is perspiration,” she said, explaining that genius required more perspiration than inspiration.

No inspiration without perspiration – Attributed to Kate Sanborn in an 1891 newspaper article
Genius is inspiration, talent is perspiration – Attributed to Sanborn in an 1893 newspaper article.

Genius and adaptability is one per cent. Hard work is 99 per cent – Unattributed aphorism in an 1895 newspaper article.

Edison, later basically only added a percentage and called a day. Concerning percentages, as i stated in the previous quote, they mean nothing, as they are not based on an exact statistical or data analysis.

This quote is very similar in nature to: Success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration – Thomas Edison

As i have already explained above, and in the previous quote, putting percentages on opinions is not something that i do agree with. Furthermore we can see that Edison changes this value as he sees fit, one day it is 1% another day it is 2% and yet another day it is 10%.

Thus hard work is the main point that Edison wants to bring forth.

Genius or inspiration is not something that Edison believes much in. Why, you would ask ?

Well, Edison is a businessman first, an inventor second. Thomas surrounded himself with smart brilliant engineers, but they work for him, this mean he does not see them as successful or geniuses, as they are just employees. From this perspective we understand his underestimation for intelligence and overestimation for hard work.

Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration 

– Thomas Edison

It is a nice quote to push people to work hard, and to study hard. But unfortunately it is absolutely not true. Edison went into invention in a systematic way, while it is not the best way to proceed. Most inventions we use are the result of luck, genius and creativity, and not necessarily the result of exclusive hard work.

It is true that the smart people should work and study hard, to be able to create the connections in their brain that would one day come up with genius ideas. But intelligence is the cornerstone of genius, not hard work.

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Abdallah Alaili

I'm a serial entrepreneur (mostly tech) and micro-investor (tiny), this is a blog to learn from other entrepreneurs and spread the wisdom to many more. You can find me on: Instagram - Twitter - Linkedin - more about me