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(Expert Feature) The Edison Vow: The Fatal Business Mistake You Never Want To Make

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There is a fatal business mistake many people make.

And if you’re not careful it can bring you many headaches and trials.

I heard a story that reveals this fatal mistake…

Thomas Edison First Patent

Thomas Edison invented a vote-recording machine for use in legislative chambers early in his career.  

He was very proud of his invention.

It worked by moving a switch to the right or left, so an official could vote for or against a proposal and never have to leave his desk.

He felt that the machine would replace the monotonous repetition of marking ballots, counting them, etc.

He was excited with the prospect of how well this machine would do that he obtained a patent for it  –  his very first.  

His Surprising Trip To Washington

With his patent, he headed for Washington.

He demonstrated his machine with excitement to the Chairman of Congressional Committees.

This man, while complimenting Edison on his ingenuity, immediately turned it down!

He told Edison, “Filibustering and delay in the tabulation of votes are often the only means we have for defeating bad or improper legislation.”

The young inventor was stunned.

He knew his invention was good and so did the chairman, but still it wasn’t wanted.

His Vow

This moment taught Edison a lesson that would stay with him for the rest of his life.

He expressed the lesson in this way…
“There and then I made a vow that I would never again invent anything which was not wanted.”

Many businesses struggle and many fail because they’ve never learned this lesson.

We must sell what our prospects and customers want, NOT want we think they need.

If you are struggling with your small business right now, maybe you ought to find out if this is your problem.

If you want to take your business to the next level, then this could be your key.

Talk to your customers.  Interview them.  Survey them.

Find out their real needs, real problemsreal desires and then figure out a way to give it to them.

But there is something important to remember.  Many times asking people what they want will reveal exactly what you need to offer them.

But sometimes you need to go deeper.

Why?  You need to remember these facts:


  • Sometimes people don’t know exactly what they need or want.
  • Sometimes people don’t know exactly what their real problems are.
  • Sometimes people don’t know the exactly what solution would help them or satisfy them.

When you listen to them you need to keep this in mind.

Take time to think about what they are really needing or wanting.
Take time to think about what their real root problems or desires are.

If you really ponder these things for awhile, it can help you to think of creative products or services that they might have never have known they even wanted.

And the result?  You’ll stand out from your competition.  (Think Apple and the iPhone.)

Historical Footnote:
After Edison made this vow to himself, his next invention did much better.  It was an improved stock market tickertape machine (1869) , which earned him an instant $40,000 [about $700,000 today].

What Do You Think?

Do you have any stories of this happening to you?
Have you had a product or service you thought people would want, but they didn’t?
Have you ever uncovered a new product or service from talking to your customers?Share your answers in the comments.

About Scott Aughtmon (1872 Articles)
I’m author of the book 51 Content Marketing Hacks. I am also a regular contributor to and I am the person behind the popular infographic 21 Types of Content We Crave. I’m a business strategist, consultant, content creation specialist, and speaker. I’ve been studying effective marketing and business methods (both online and offline) since 1999. ===> If you would like to see ways that we could work together, then please click here to learn more.

2 Comments on (Expert Feature) The Edison Vow: The Fatal Business Mistake You Never Want To Make

  1. Scott,
    I hadn’t heard this story about Edison before. It’s very interesting. I recently met a young man who had created a new browser plug-in that seemed to be just like Edison’s voting machine. Nifty, but unwanted.

    I say this because he told me of times when he’d excitedly pitched the product to potential customers only to find them luke warm about his creation. I told him straight up that his creation didn’t seem needed. Rather than take it as a defeat he went back to the drawing board to see what needed to change.

    He made some adjustments to his pitch and went after a different market. This new market was actually quite interested in his product and he now seems to be making some inroads there. He feels much better now.

  2. Hi Michael,

    I heard the story a long time ago and always thought I needed to share it, because it has such a powerful lesson for us all.

    Thanks for sharing that story about that young man. Taking what one niche doesn’t want and offering it to another niche is a good idea, so hopefully that helps other business owners who read this and deal with a similar problem.

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