"They Won't Think" by Thomas Alva Edison

EVERY MAN has some forte, something he can do better than he can do anything else. Many men, however, never find the job they are best suited for. And often this is because they do not think enough. Too many men drift lazily into any job, suited or unsuited for them; and when they don't get along well they blame everybody and everything but themselves. Grouches are nearly always pinheads, small men who have never made any effort to improve their mental capacity. The brain can be developed just the same as the muscles can be developed, if one will only take the pains to train the mind to think. Why do so many men never amount to anything? Because they don't think. I am going to have a sign put up all over my plant, reading "There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labor of thinking."

That is true. There is hardly a day that I do not discover how painfully true it is.

What progress individuals could make, and what progress the world would make, if thinking were given proper consideration! It seems to me that not one man in a thousand appreciates what can be accomplished by training the mind to think.

It is because they do not use their thinking powers that so many people have never developed a creditable mentality. The brain that isn't used rusts. The brain that is used responds. The brain is exactly like any other part of the body: it can be strengthened by proper exercise, by proper use. Put your arm in a sling and keep it there for a considerable length of time, and, when you take it out, you find that you can't use it. In the same way, the brain that isn't used suffers atrophy.

By developing your thinking powers you expand the capacity of your brain and attain new abilities. For example, the average person's brain does not observe a thousandth part of what the eye observes. The average brain simply fails to register the things which come before the eye. It is almost incredible how poor our powers of observation--genuine observation--are. Let me give an illustration: When we first started the incandescent lighting system we had a lamp factory at the bottom of a hill, at Menlo Park. It was a very busy time for us all. Seventy-five of us worked twenty hours every day and slept only four hours--and thrived on it.

I fed them all, and I had a man play an organ all the time we were at work. One midnight, while at lunch, a matter came up which caused me to refer to a cherry tree beside the hill leading from the main works to the lamp factory. Nobody seemed to know anything about the location of the cherry tree. This made me conduct a little investigation, and I found that although twenty-seven of these men had used this path every day for six months not one of them had ever noticed the tree.

The eye sees a great many things, but the average brain records very few of them. Indeed, nobody has the slightest conception of how little the brain 'sees' unless it has been highly trained. I remember dropping in to see a man whose duty was to watch the working of a hundred machines on a table. I asked him if everything was all right.

Yes, everything is all right, he said.

But, I had already noticed that two of the machines had stopped. I drew his attention to them, and he was mortified. He confessed that, although his sole duty was to watch and see that every machine was working, he had not noticed that these two had stopped. I could hide myself off and keep busy at thinking forever. I don't need anybody to amuse me. It is the same way with my friends John Burroughs, the naturalist, and Henry Ford, who is a natural-born mechanic. We can derive the most satisfying kind of joy from thinking and thinking and thinking.

The man who doesn't make up his mind to cultivate the habit of thinking misses the greatest pleasure in life. He not only misses the greatest pleasure, but he cannot make the most of himself. All progress, all success, springs from thinking.

Of course, even the most concentrated thinking cannot solve every new problem that the brain can conceive. It usually takes me from five to seven years to perfect a thing. Some things I have been working on for twenty-five years--and some of them are still unsolved. My average would be about seven years. The incandescent light was the hardest one of all; it took many years not only of concentrated thought but also of world-wide research. The storage battery took eight years. It took even longer to perfect the phonograph.

Which do I consider my greatest invention? Well, my reply to that would be that I like the phonograph best. Doubtless this is because I love music. And then it has brought so much joy into millions of homes all over the country, and, indeed, all over the world. Music is so helpful to the human mind that it is naturally a source of satisfaction to me that I have helped in some way to make the very finest music available to millions who could not afford to pay the price and time necessary to hear the greatest artists sing and play.

Many inventions are not suitable for the people at large because of their carelessness. Before a thing can be marketed to the masses, it must be made practically fool-proof. Its operation must be made extremely simple. That is one reason, I think, why the phonograph has been so universally adopted. Even a child can operate it.

Another reason, is that people are far more willing to pay for being amused than for anything else.

One great trouble with the world to-day is that people wander from place to place, and are never satisfied with anything. They are shiftless and thoughtless. They revolt at buckling down and doing hard work and hard thinking. They refuse to take the time and the trouble to lay solid foundations. They are too superficial, too flighty, too easily bored. They fail to adopt the right spirit toward their life work, and consequently fail to enjoy the satisfaction and the happiness which comes from doing a job, no matter what it is, absolutely in the best way within their power. Failing to find the joy which they should find in accomplishing something, they turn to every imaginable variety of amusement. Instead of learning to drink in joy through their minds, they try to find it, without effort, through their eyes and their ears--and sometimes their stomachs. It is all because they won't think, won't think!


How true it is even today except for when he said "... even a child can do it" Children can do more now than ever before. I have to ask my grand kids how to use my electronic stuff.

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