An outward mindset accelerates results…but what of those well-known achievers who are successful despite having an inward mindset? Or those who achieve success because they had an inward mindset? In this two-part series, we explore why success obtained by an inward mindset is just a mirage.
Thomas Edison, arguably the most prolific inventor in American history, died with over 1,000 patents to his name. Known as “The Wizard of Menlo Park,” he was perceived as larger than life in his time and rose to the heights of prominence both as a practical scientist and as a businessman. But he has been shown to be a megalomaniac of the first order, often securing his success through deceptive work practices—distorting the truth, stealing patents when he could not buy them, slandering competitors and destroying their work in the process.
“Edison was very competitive,” biographer Randall Stross has commented. “The more people who tried to find the answer, the more tempting it was for him to take it on. He was maniacally focused on maintaining control.” His underhanded tactics ranged from interrupting movie screenings that used technology disruptive to his patents, to electrocuting animals before large audiences to discredit the theories of his arch competitor, George Westinghouse. A master self-promoter and marketer, he successfully convinced the public that he invented the incandescent light bulb when, in fact, he merely perfected it. "With his beetle brows, long wispy hair, and beatific look, Edison might have seemed the addled inventor," writes the historian Neil Gabler, "but he was a shrewd businessman and a fearsome adversary who was never loath to take credit for any invention, whether he was responsible or not."
Edison secured fame and fortune, and delivered to the world a host of useful technologies, but often at the expense of others. He did create an organization of highly capable employees that did outlast him, but his insatiable, almost compulsive need to be on the top kept Edison from engaging in real collaboration. He felt the only way to success was to destroy everyone else working on similar technologies.
Robert Rosenberg, of The Edison Papers project, saw that Edison “understood that inventing is not just having an idea, and so he made Edison a name to be reckoned with.” Edison was, in many respects, the first to understand and cultivate the power of a personal brand in business. Historian Lisa Gitelman, has observed that “this is really the beginning of American trademark consciousness.”
Despite Edison’s legendary work habits, often devoting thousands of hours to solve one problem by trial and error, he could be grossly unproductive. Tesla believed that his competitor’s unwillingness to learn from his peers who were engaged in theoretical science—for which Edison had utter disdain—made him unnecessarily slow in his practical science: “His method was inefficient in the extreme, for an immense ground had to be covered to get anything at all accomplished unless blind chance intervened and, at first, I was almost a sorry witness of his doings, knowing that just a little theory and calculation would have saved him 90% of the labor.” From all accounts, his inward focus never seemed to leave much room for anything beyond his own ambition.
His work so consumed him that he rarely paid any attention to the needs of his own family. Practically living in his laboratory, his relationship with his wife steadily deteriorated until she died as a result of a morphine overdose at the age of 29. Disenchanted with his famous but inward father, Thomas Jr. dropped the Edison surname, and Edison’s daughter was cut off from the family entirely.
Professionally, engineers, and scientists whose collaboration could have accelerated and perfected his inventions became archenemies. Nikola Tesla, a competitor Edison worked aggressively to disgrace, began as an engineer in Edison’s own lab.
At the same time that Edison raged against his rivals—primarily Westinghouse and Tesla in the field of electricity—two American scientists, Edward Cope and Charles Marsh, became embattled to secure the foremost place in the early years of paleontology. When giant fossilized bones of dinosaurs were discovered in the mid 19th century, these one-time friends embarked to the unsettled western United States to unearth the fantastic, long-extinct species that had captured the world’s imagination. But they quickly began to mistrust each other, each vying for the top of the totem pole as the world’s greatest paleontologist. Working separately, Marsh, who was backed by Yale funds as America’s first professor of paleontology, sent spies to monitor Cope’s cobbled-together expeditions into the fossil fields of America’s badlands.
Desperate to be the first to claim and name a new species, each hurried to get their discoveries into print, regardless of the often sloppy work such speed required. Fueled by greed and the desire for name recognition they would often separately publish findings of the same species, proliferating and confusing the burgeoning new scientific field. It would be decades before the mess could finally be sorted out. “What followed,” wrote historian Mark Jaffe, “was a relentless effort by Marsh to discredit all of Cope’s names and findings.” Personal attacks in scientific journals flowed from both men, including allegations of fraud, fabricated dates on papers, and stealing fossils. Given the scope of the opportunity at hand—an entire untouched continent rich with clues into the ancient past—"the question [was] not, 'How do we divide this up?'" as historian Steven Conn, observed. "The question [was], 'How do I shut out my competitor?'" “Let’s face it,” modern paleontologist Jacques Gauthier commented, “famous scientists are not successful because of their capacity to get along all together. To be good and find new things, it’s ‘I’m right, and you’re wrong.’”
Each had become extremely protective of their excavation quarries. In perhaps the most egregious act Marsh sent telegrams in code with spies who were charged to keep an eye on Cope. When it appeared that Cope, code named Jones, “might” be closing in on Marsh’s stash, Marsh ordered his employees to destroy the fossils simply to keep them from falling into Cope’s hands. Back at Yale Marsh had amassed the greatest collection of dinosaur fossils in the world, which he kept hidden from nearly everyone, especially his fellow scientists. He was well respected but had few friends and family connections. “It’s a stunted life in many ways, emotionally,” wrote Mark Jaffe. Of Cope, he observed, “Cope was a complicated character. He had great warmth. People who were his friends loved him. And yet on the other hand he had this irascible, thin-skinned, quick on the trigger personality. One of his Philadelphia colleagues called him a militant paleontologist.”
Both died alone, broken men.
The examples of Edison, Cope, and Marsh illuminate the common result of the inward mindset whenever it fuels the ambition of high achievers. That is, those fueled by an inward mindset believe that their success can only be had at the expense of the success of others. For Edison, his success depended on the demise of Westinghouse and Tesla. The same was true between Cope and Marsh. “There were more than enough bones for both of them,” observed paleontologist Bob Bakker, "more than enough bones for a dozen more, but they kept on seeing that your win is my loss.”
But this is not all.
Their own success—undiminished by the success of all others—became more important than their stated lifelong objective. The hallmark of an inward mindset is the elevation of one’s own needs above any goal, no matter how lofty or noble. No result is more important than self when the inward mindset is at play.
What more could Edison have accomplished with an outward mindset? What was the measurable cost and the opportunity cost of operating with an inward mindset, both personally and professionally?
And what was the cost to the rest of the world? In the case of Cope and Marsh, the cost was astonishing. Hundreds of species may never be known to science, destroyed by the two men seemingly most devoted to their discovery.
How much is an inward mindset costing your organization? Read “The Financial Cost of Conflict in Organizations” to find out!