Thursday, 19 November 2009

1% inspiration looking for perspiration

With all the talk of metrics on Getting to Excellent over the last couple of days, it’s worth thinking about what lies behind the metrics. Because metrics only report back on inspired initiatives. Inspiration comes first, metrics second.

Thomas Edison of light bulb fame said that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. (Is that why the light bulb is such a potent symbol for inspiration?) Metrics fit on the 99% side; the diligent work needed to improve performance until success is achieved. Edison pointed out that a genius is merely a talented person who has done all of his or her homework.

Of course, inspiration may or may not be genius, which is why measurement and evaluation are so important. By assessing the success of initiatives we are able to understand better what works and what doesn’t. Edison reckoned to have constructed 3,000 different theories, with only two being successful. Yet it was the measurement and evaluation of the 2,998 theories that led him to the successful ones.

So whilst metrics may appear dry on the surface it does follow some truly inspirational stuff.

The world is full, full, full of information. Full, full, full of ideas. And in between all of that there are some sparks of inspiration. Which, no doubt, have been honed through years of careful observation of what works and what doesn’t.

So are you working on the 1% inspiration today, or the 99% perspiration of your homework? What made Edison a household name was the diligent 99% of careful experimentation, measurement and evaluation. Genius!


  1. Hi Caroline,

    Interesting post. It is vital to press on regardless in life. So many people give up too soon and become disheartened. But it is this unswerving doggedness which sets people apart from the crowd too.

    Years ago I cycled down Africa for a year with my brother. We cycled 17,500 kms. Most people ask how long it took and think we were mad and that they could never do it. But, the fact was that we did a series of day rides which linked together to form the complete trip. Each day rise was made up of a series of minor goals which might have been, "I will just make it to the top of that next rise before I rest".

    This is how we cycled down Africa. We just made it to the end of each stage, measured our average speed and so on so that we knew what we had to do to reach the next point where we could rest or pick up water and food.

    There happened to be a lot of perspiration along the way too!

    Best regards,


  2. Wow! What an amazing achievement! Interesting that you mention average speed - I would have thought the most obvious metric would be distance covered. But I guess if you are cycling for a year, you look forward to the non-cycling bits! A wonderful thing to do - are you going to write a book about it?