Inspiration, Perspiration, and Originality

Thomas Edison is famous for inventing things that won’t leave us alone. He invented the light bulb. Today, we are bombarded by light. He invented the phonograph. Today, we are inundated with noise. Edison’s inventions that haunts me the most, though, isn’t an invention at all. It is a quote. Thomas Edison coined the phrase, “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” I have heard that quote hundreds of times. It rattles around in my head. And I don’t’ like it.

It’s not that I disagree with the quite. It means that you have to work hard, no matter how good your ideas are. But I think there is something missing. Inspirations and perspiration are fine, but what about originality? Originality is a key element in every great work, and Edison overlooked it. If he could miss an ingredient, maybe the ratios of his recipe were wrong as well. I say genius is clearly X percent inspiration, Y percent perspiration, and Z percent originality. We don’t know the values of X, Y, and Z, but we do know they all add up to 100%. So what are the proper proportions of inspiration, perspiration, and originality required to create a solution of genius?

Chemistry lesson

“This chemistry lesson is weird…”

100% perspiration, with zero inspiration or originality is called plagiarism. All inspiration with no originality or perspiration is a goal that will never be realized. Anything that is 100% original, without being worked on or inspired, is probably complete nonsense. At best.

Obviously, perspiration remains the most important of the ingredients. Without work, nothing gets done. Lets set perspiration to 80%. If you are doing less than 80% effort, you are probably not going to complete the project in any reasonable amount of time.


“That’s not true. I always finish my naps on time.”

That leaves us with 20% to distribute between inspiration and originality. Which of these is more important to genius? Should they be split down the middle at 10% each?

When it comes down to it, all the originality in the world will not give you a reason to pursue genius. It takes mostly work to achieve anything, but you still have to be inspired to do the work in the first place. Inspiration is like a catalyst to perspiration, and is therefore more important than originality. I give inspiration 19%.

That leaves a measly one percent for originality. After deconstructing Edison’s quote to give originality a place, you would think I’d give it a greater one. But 1% is appropriate. Originality deserves a place. It deserves to be mentioned. And is it sorely missed when it is lacking. But originality is far from the most important thing. Without originality you can’t achieve true genius, but originality should not be your goal.


Your goal should be profits!

Edison was wrong, be he was close. Genius is 80% perspiration, 19% Inspiration, and 1% percent originality.

Disagree with my assessment? Then come up with your own. But I suggest you have a good reason, and put a whole lot of work into your argument. That will get you a lot further than any original words you make up.

Edison Explains

“Don’t you understand? The Zagrop oogrens upsa uda Ixtyrmsh.”