The Myth of the Lone Inventor

October 5 2012

In The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, he writes about a question the psychologist Carol Dweck asks her students:

When you think of Thomas Edison, she asks them, what do you see?

“He’s standing in a white coat in a lab-type room,” comes the average reply. “He’s leaning over a light bulb. Suddenly, it works!”

“Is he alone?” Dweck asks.
“Yes. He’s kind of a reclusive guy who likes to tinker on his own.”

As Dweck relishes in pointing out, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Edison actually thrived in group settings, and when he invented the light bulb, he did so with the help of 30 assistants. Edison was actually a social creative, not a lone wolf!

In The Start-Up of You, we emphasize the tremendous professional networks of people like JP Morgan, Ben Franklin and Joseph Priestly–each formed critical alliances in their career that allowed them to make groundbreaking innovations. Just as there’s a myth of a lone inventor like Edison, there’s a myth that successful professionals and CEOs today are lone superheroes. Mark Zuckerberg is a talented guy, but his greatest talent might be attracting all-star people to his team. In your career, you need to be similarly devoted to building teams around you to help you get to where you want to go.